Access to Learning Project
Learning and Teaching Resources
compiled by Lotte Hammer
Students have the right to keep their disability and specific learning difficulty confidential. The Disability Rights Commission (2002, p.79) uses the following example to illustrate this point:
A student with AIDS is on a Chemical Engineering course. He does not want other students to know of his condition. His condition means he sometimes needs to have time off. His tutors have offered to arrange extra time in the laboratory for him after hours to make up for the time he misses. However, he has refused this on grounds of confidentiality. Instead, they offer to provide him with extra lecture notes. Although this adjustment is less effective, it is likely to be lawful. In other words, confidentiality must be upheld, even if it means that a ‘reasonable adjustment’ is not ideal or if it cannot be provided.
However, it is the fear of possible discrimination that makes people with disabilities unwilling to disclose and so we must work towards creating an environment in which people are confident that a disclosure of a disability results in effective support.
On some programmes where professional standards are in place it may be that disclosure is important as health and safety considerations have to be taken into account and students will be required to undergo additional checks to ensure their fitness to practice. Programmes where students are required to undertake placements/study abroad will need to ensure that placement/partner institutions are accessible and can support people with disabilities. Public and private sector organisations are required to comply with DDA and so checks should be made that placement providers are aware of their responsibilities to support people with disabilities, including students on placement.
Students should be aware that disclosure is necessary in order for support to be put in place so if confidentiality is insisted upon, this will have an impact on the extent of support that can be arranged. If at any time the health and safety of self or others is a significant concern then this may override any confidentiality requested.
A sensitive conversation about the benefits of disclosure is often enough allay anxiety about disclosure.