Self-Disclosure

For students with more visible physical or medical disabilities, it typically is the case that other individuals will notice that the students are living with a different physical reality from their own.  Typically the issue of self-disclosure is more a matter of how much detailed information about their disability they may choose to share with other people.  This is a very personal decision and will vary among individuals and according to different circumstances.

For people with "non-visible disabilities," self-disclosure can be a more central and complicated issue. People with non-visible disabilities are often reluctant to disclose. They are concerned that disclosure may limit academic opportunities,  job prospects or advancement opportunities due to misconceptions, stereotypes, or generalizations about their disability. Job seekers with non-visible disabilities are also concerned that they may be offered "a token position" to fill an employment equity target and they would rather be hired for their abilities, not their disabilities.

There are persons with non-visible disabilities who do not need to disclose because they have implemented personal strategies and accommodations to compensate for their idiosyncratic learning styles. However, there are others who have no choice but to disclose in order to pass academic or employment entrance tests, complete job advancement courses, or complete assigned work within narrowly established parameters. Many would be able to perform more efficiently at university or on the job if they were able to arrange for some simple accommodations such as a quieter work space, access to a computer and/or readily available assistive technology, or be given instructions in alternative formats.

Many employers, committed to employment equity, encourage disclosure because they recognize the importance of developing the potential of all workers. Roy Sampson, Manager of Recruitment and Employment Equity for the Royal Bank, expressed the sentiments of many organizations, "The relationship between an employer and a candidate for employment must be one of trust and understanding. Self disclosure of one's disability adds value to that relationship by providing the opportunity, through open discussion, to determine how individuals can reach their full potential in the work environment."

Ultimately, the choice to disclose to a faculty member or employer rests with the individual with a disability who must evaluate each situation based on thorough research of diverse factors that include:

  • personal needs and comfort level
  • nature of the academic requirements
  • nature of the job requirements
  • possible academic or job accommodations required during or after the application or selection process, and
  • the organization's level of awareness of disability issues

Universities and employment settings need to ensure that persons with disabilities can disclose in a succinct, positive manner and that they can do so without shame or fear of lost opportunity. Ultimately, universities, employers, students and employees benefit from discussing strategies that allow the achievement of maximum productivity.