Most students with disability, including medical conditions and mental illnesses, face the issues of whether to disclose, what to disclose, when to disclose and how to disclose. Information about disclosure rights and responsibilities is crucial in helping a student work out the most beneficial option/s for them.
It is suggested that you read the information contained in the internet based resource "Choosing Your Path – Disclosure: It’s a Personal Decision”(link at the bottom of this page). This website provides substantial information about options and pathways that people with disability can use in disclosing their disability in post-secondary education and employment environments.
Looking at the Options
A student can have a confidential talk with their local NDCO, University Disability Adviser or TAFE Disability Adviser if they are unsure of whether or not they are likely to need support services and subsequently need to disclose. Disclosure to a Disability Adviser before a student’s course starts, or as early as possible, will allow the time necessary for the arrangement of appropriate support.
Generally, there is no obligation for a student to disclose their disability to an education provider unless it is likely to pose an imminent risk to safety or affect their performance to meet the core requirements of the course.
Mostly, where a student has not disclosed a disability, teaching and other staff are not responsible for providing education related adjustments or other accommodations.
Benefits and Disadvantages
There can be benefits and disadvantages for a student of any decision to disclose or not to disclose a disability. In general, the decision to disclose a disability can open up opportunities for a student to receive the support and education adjustments needed to allow them to study and complete their course to the best of their ability.
Of course, the potential down side of disclosing a disability is the possibility of encountering lowered expectations and other prejudicial attitudes. However, it is important to understand that it is unlawful for education providers, and others, to discriminate against a person because of their disability, under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cmwth).
Also privacy law protects information about a person’s disability. Information about a student’s disability cannot be shared with others within the institution without the student’s expressed consent, except in extreme circumstances. Adjustments and support are arranged without details of a person’s disability being shared with lecturers, tutors or other students, it is treated with strictest confidentiality.
What does the DDA say about disclosure of disability?
The Disability Discrimination Act and the Disability Standards for Education made under the Act do not contain any provisions directly on disclosure of disability.
The Guidance Notes issued in association with the Disability Standards for Education however do state:
Any confidential information provided to education providers for the purposes of making adjustments should not be disclosed except for the purposes of the adjustment or in accordance with a lawful requirement.
This advice in the Guidance notes is based on the point that it is only lawful to request disability related information from or in relation to a student in the first place for the purposes of identifying and making possible reasonable adjustments - or for the purposes of other lawful requirements including assessing a student's ability to satisfy course requirements.
Education providers should also refer to the Privacy Act which incorporates Information Privacy Principles including that personal information should only be used for the purposes for which it has been provided.
Most importantly, as in the broader community, attitudes in education settings about people with disability have progressed significantly in recent years. Educators and other staff are now more likely to recognise the rights of people with disability to participate in education and the potential for students with all forms of disability to achieve great things in education. Now is a better time than any other for a student with disability to consider disclosing their disability, and reap the many potential benefits.
Examples of video material about disability disclosure at university and/or TAFE include