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Disclosing a Disability in a Postsecondary Setting

Why disclose in the postsecondary setting?

As a person with a disability, you are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.  Both of these laws require that covered individuals with disabilities must be provided with reasonable accommodations if the individual discloses a disability and the institution is a covered entity (receives federal funding). Some reasons for disclosing your disability in a postsecondary setting include:

  • Obtaining information about available supports and services;
  • Discussing academic requirements and practical components of your course of study; and
  • Ensuring that faculty members implement the reasonable accommodations you require in order for you to be successful in your courses.

When to disclose your disability

The timing of your disclosure depends upon when you need accommodations.  Generally, there are five instances where it may be important to consider disclosure.

  1. Prior to enrollment – you would disclose at this time if you needed accommodations during the application and/or testing process.
  2. At the time of enrollment - if you anticipate that you will need accommodations to complete your classes, it would be important to disclose at this point.  Remember, you want to disclose your disability before you have trouble in a course due to lack of accommodations.
  3. During your course of study – you would disclose at this point if you discover that you need accommodations while taking classes.
  4. After being diagnosed – you want to disclose if you acquire a disability during your course of study and need accommodations to successfully complete the program.
  5. Never- you may choose not to disclose your disability if no accommodations are needed, or if you have decided to accommodate your needs personally.

How to disclose your disability

Determine your own personal privacy boundaries concerning the amount and type of information you want to share with others.  Pick a time when you are not rushed and can thoughtfully explain your needs to others.  Remember to keep the disclosure conversation focused on your abilities and be self-determined and practical.  It is also a good idea to practice talking about your disability with someone you trust.

What to disclose about your disability

Programs may vary regarding the information they request from you.  Below is information that you should be prepared to share with the disability support service staff.

  • Information about your disability, including assessments and, if requested, documentation of your disability.
  • Types of academic accommodations that have worked for you in the past.
  • Types of academic accommodations you anticipate needing in the postsecondary setting.
  • How your disability and other life experiences can contribute to your success in your studies.
  • How your disability affects your capacity to learn and study effectively.

To whom do you disclose your disability?

Generally, you should only disclose your disability to those individuals who have a need to know because of the accommodation process.  You may consider disclosing to the program’s disability support service coordinator and/or committee, your academic advisor, and your college instructors/professors. It is a good idea to begin by disclosing to the disability support services office to learn what the specific procedures are for your program.

The above information is taken from The U.S. Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy/ Publications/ The Why, When, What, and How of Disclosure in an Academic Setting, After High School at www.dol.gov/odep.

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