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.
Benefits and Risks of Disclosure
Students with disabilities will only receive accommodations at their post-secondary school if they disclose their disability to the Accessibility Services (AS) office and provide appropriate documentation. This means that unless a student discloses and registers with the AS office, accommodations, such as note-takers and alterations to the timing or format of tests/exams, cannot not be provided.
Some students choose to take a ‘wait and see’ approach to disclosure. These students do not immediately register with AS and proceed 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 is important to remember that registering with AS is not cheating, nor do students who use accommodations tailored to their functional limitations have an unfair advantage in their courses. Accommodations are in place to give every student equal access to the course material. In fact, accommodations do not provide an unfair advantage to students; rather, they ensure that every student is treated equitably.
While students must disclose their disability to AS 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, some students do choose to disclose their disability to some teaching staff and to advocate for themselves and their own needs. Although there is no requirement for students to disclose their specific disability to professors/instructors, there could be potential advantages to disclosure such as increased support and understanding as well as the greater societal good of reducing stigma associated with disabilities.
When and How to Disclose
During the Application Process
It is a great idea for students to contact the AS office at their preferred schools to discuss supports and services available while researching schools. Students can identify themselves as a potential student who has a disability and ask about both disability-related service and generic supports on campus. This guide also contains information about the services available at each college and university in Ontario, which students may wish to review prior to contacting AS offices.
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 AS after they have accepted a place at their post-secondary institution.
After Acceptance, Before School Begins
After being accepted to a college or university, students can begin the process of registering with AS. In order to have accommodations in place for the beginning of classes, it is recommended that students contact the AS office two months before school begins. The registration process and services provided by AS are outlined in more detail in the Accessibility Services section.
During the First Weeks of Class
If a student registers with the Accessibility Services office (AS), AS develops a Letter of Accommodations that addresses the student’s areas of functional impairment. This letter is communicated to professors/instructors directly and they will only know which accommodations a student receives, but not why. If a student wishes to disclose more detailed information about their disability, they should contact their professor/instructor and/or program coordinator (in person, via e-mail, or phone) to arrange a time to meet with them for 10-15 minutes.
In order to help start the conversation with professors/instructors or other members of your Faculty (like your program coordinator), consider writing a sample disclosure letter. This exercise is meant to help you practice self-advocacy skills by learning how to talk about your disability and need for accommodations to post-secondary staff.
It is important to note that it remains the student’s decision to decide if they want to disclose personal information about their disability. Post-secondary staff are only informed that a student has a disability and requires accommodations, but not why.
What if I Didn't Disclose Before - But Now I Want to?
It is never too late to register with AS or disclose one’s disability. The office is open year round to support students and arrange accommodations. However, keep in mind that it does take several weeks to arrange accommodations. If students contact AS 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 AS midway through their post-secondary schooling, AS can help set up accommodations and services to assist students in current or future courses. Changes in grades or status for courses that have already been completed may be possible, but this would require the student to go through an appeal process with the appropriate faculty office, and there are no guarantees that an appeal would be successful. Therefore, it is better to be proactive and register with AS sooner rather than later.
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 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.
Tips for being an effective self-advocate:
- Understand your own disability and your strengths and challenges;
- Understand your legal rights and responsibilities regarding accommodations;
- When disclosing to professors/instructors, be sure to find an appropriate time (when they are not rushed or distracted);
- When possible (and if comfortable doing so) disclose early on and before problems arise, rather than waiting until a crisis or very stressful time;
- Practice disclosing and advocating with people that you’re comfortable with and who are supportive; and
- Ask for help from AS or support staff.