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I'm doing a project-based postdoc in an European university.

I have serious ongoing eye conditions that significantly affect my reading speed and as a result it took me 5 years to complete my PhD in a country where a standard Ph/D/ is only for 3 years.

I have been selected for this postdoc position, I think, mostly because of my particular fieldwork and user engagement experience, which is essential for this post. So I still got hired despite my very weak publication record. And because the interview was via Skype, the PI did not discover my hidden disability, nor did I disclose it.

However, as I've been working in the position for several months now, it becomes apparent that I'm falling behind other colleagues of the team. Despite working extremely hard, I couldn't finish the work designated by the PI on time and I think I'll need a thorough explanation for that.

The question is, will disclosing a hidden disability ruin my employment? This is a 3 year position and the initial contract is only for 1 year. Given this is an externally funded, project-based postdoc, I'm really worried that my contract will not get renewed at the end of the first year.

And also how do I explain this to the PI and the university? For example, the choice of terms, hidden disability vs. chronic illness vs. long term health condition? Do different terms imply different levels of legal protection for employment?

  • I presume that you are performing at the same rate that you were during your PhD. If your PI did not ask why your PhD took five years to complete, or why your publication record is sparse, then you could argue that that is his/her failure. – Moriarty Apr 6 '15 at 22:21
  • Do you legally have a disability? I.e. you have documentation that under the Law you have X% disability due to your condition? Because that's all that matters for the contract. From your question it's not 100% clear that this is the case. – Bakuriu Apr 7 '15 at 15:52
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In most European countries, it is usually against the law to fire people because of disabilities. So long as you're capable of performing your assigned work with reasonable accommodations, you should not be afraid of being terminated. However, you will probably need to have documentation of your disorder to provide as evidence to support your claim.

  • thanks! I have all hospital letters date back to when my condition was first diagnosed. My concern is, I only have a one-year contract. so they could just not renew it by the end of year without involving the dismissal procedure? it's not a three-year contract with one-year probation – confusedpostdoc Apr 6 '15 at 22:44
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    @confusedpostdoc, you have the same risk from not telling them, and them deciding you are not a good working because you are slow. – Ian Apr 7 '15 at 10:23
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This is to complement aeismail's answer:

It might not suit the specific details of your condition but if you do end up disclosing your disability, you could also suggest to your employer various types of reading aids that could help you be more efficient at your job. There are devices that can alleviate some types of reading handicaps:

  • Video screen magnifier (I am not making a suggestion, I am only showing this as a reference; also it says it only works with Windows XP) Especially great with an old CRT monitor with accessible contrast and brightness settings
  • A similar system, but using a video projector instead
  • USB magnifier
  • Digital copies of all hand-outs, to read via a text-to-speech program
  • Optical character recognition software

Many employers are more than happy to cooperate with the employee in order to accommodate disabilities (in part because they can save money in the long run if it does help the employee), and in some locations they are even legally required to do so. Some governments even issue tax cuts and compensations to the employers.

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Most European countries (even the UK) have advisory boards or charities about such issues. All countries have lawyers that are competent to various degrees in the matter.

I can imagine you are looking for some reassurance or reinforcement, but if I were you, I would consider taking advice either from a lawyer, a board or charity as a matter of urgency, rather than opinions from the Internet.

Keep in mind common sense may differ across land and time, but it will most certainly differ from the law of the land.

Good luck.

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