For some students, disclosing that one has a disability may not be a straightforward and easy decision. While there are many benefits to disclosing one’s disability, it is always a personal decision, and one that students must make for themselves.
Students with disabilities will only receive accommodations at post-secondary school if they disclose their disability to the Office for Students with Disabilities (OSD) and provide appropriate documentation. This means that unless a student discloses and registers with the OSD, accommodations such as note-takers, alternate formats, and accommodated exam schedules cannot not be provided.
Some students choose to take the ‘wait and see’ approach to disclosure. These students do not immediately register with the OSD, and rather they participate in their courses without accommodations. Some students do this because they think they may not need accommodations, and others may do this because they have a desire to ‘fit in’. It’s important to remember that registering with the OSD is not cheating, nor do students who use accommodations have an unfair advantage in their courses. Accommodations are in place to give every student the equal access to the course material. In fact accommodations do not provide an unfair advantage to students – rather they ensure that every student has the same advantage.
While students must disclose their disability to the OSD in order to receive accommodations, they are not required to disclose specific details about their disability to professors, teaching assistants, or other staff members. However, many students do choose to disclose their disability to some instructors and to advocate for themselves and their own needs.
Some of the benefits and risks associated with disclosing your disability to professors and teaching assistants in the chart below:
|Instructors may be able to help see potential problems with material or workload before it becomes a large setback.||Some students are very uncomfortable discussing their own disability, and are nervous to start a conversation with their instructor about their disability.|
|Instructors may be able to provide additional support or flexibility above and beyond required accommodations.||While college and university staff are trained to understand and respect disabilities, it is always possible that a student may encounter someone who does not understand disabilities or has a negative view of people with disabilities.|
|Instructors may be able to cater portions of their teaching or lessons towards students’ learning styles or strengths.||Students may not get exactly the response they are looking for (accommodations are laid out with the OSD, even if a student discloses to a professor and asks for special consideration, they may not receive it).|
|By understanding their students’ personal circumstance, instructors may be able to help alleviate any misunderstandings.|
|By being confident in one’s abilities and sharing one’s disability, students can help reduce the stigma surrounding disabilities.|
It is a great idea for student to contact the OSD at their preferred schools to discuss their services while researching schools. Students can identify themself as a potential student who has a disability and ask about the services available.
On college and university applications, there may be a place to discuss one’s disability (such as a personal essay component). Some students choose to share their disability in this section because it may be helpful to illustrate their personal situation to college and university admissions personnel.
Regardless of whether or not students choose to disclose during the application process – in order to receive accommodations, students with disabilities need to officially register with the OSD after they have accepted a place at post-secondary school.
After being accepted to a college or university, students can begin the process of registering with the OSD. In order to have accommodations in place for the beginning of classes, it is recommended that students contact the OSD two months before school begins. The registration process and services provided by the OSD is outlined in more detail in the Office for Students with Disabilities section.
If students choose to disclose their disability to professors, the best time to do this is during the first weeks of class, before the workload becomes too heavy. Students should contact their professor (in person, or via e-mail or phone) to arrange a time to meet with them for 10-15 minutes. During this meeting, students can give their professor their accommodation letter from the OSD and students may choose to disclose more detailed information about their disability at this time.
In order to help start the conversation with instructors, consider writing a disclosure letter:
It’s never too late to register with the OSD or disclose one’s disability. The office is open year round to support students and arrange accommodations. However, keep in mind – it does take several weeks to arrange accommodations. If students contact the OSD just days before their final exams, they will likely not be able to have accommodations in place before the course ends.
If a student registers with the OSD midway through their post-secondary schooling, the OSD can help set up accommodations and services to assist students in current or future courses. It is more difficult to obtain changes in grades or status for courses that have already been completed, and students would need to complete an appeal process with the appropriate faculty office.
For many students, advocating for themselves is an important part of the disclosure process. Students may encounter staff or peers who do not fully understand disabilities and by being a self-advocate, students can ensure that they receive the support that they need. It can sometimes be hard to know where to start or how to advocate for oneself – however it can be an important step on the road to success.