Telling a university about a disability can be a worrying prospect for some students. We’ve answered some of the most common questions about disclosure, so you can make the decision that works for you.
Does my disability ‘count’?
The definition of ‘disability’ is very broad and can include learning difficulties, mental health conditions, physical disabilities or long-term health conditions like cancer or HIV. You might feel that your needs are not as urgent as someone else’s or that you’ve managed in the past without support. However, impairments affect learning in different ways and it’s always worth checking with a university’s disabilities adviser to see if you’re entitled to support as universities have a duty to assist students with a broad spectrum of needs.
Whilst there are many advantages to disclosing your disability with the university, it remains 100% your choice and there is no obligation if you don’t feel comfortable using the label. It’s a personal choice about what feels right for you.
Why do universities need to know about my disability?
It’s always optional to give details of your disability to a university, but there are many advantages in doing so, for example:
- The university can put adjustments in place in time for the start of your course
- You may be eligible for financial support (see one of our articles on ‘Financial support for disabled students’)
- You may need equipment, software, learning support or services to help you study
- You may need accessible accommodation
- There may be counselling, mentoring or group sessions you can attend at the university
What if I’ve never been tested for a learning difficulty?
You can be tested for a learning difficulty at any time, even if you’ve already started your course. Your university or school may be able to arrange an assessment for you, or you can go to agencies such as Dyslexia Action, who offer free advice sessions. You may have to pay a fee for your assessment, although there is often funding available for those who can’t afford to pay.
Remember: It’s never too late to tell your university about any disability you may have. Get in touch with the disabilities office at your university if you need support or adjustments.
How much detail will I have to give?
You can give as little or as much detail about your disability as you feel comfortable with. If you request any kind of adjustment (such as extra time in an exam or a note-taker in lectures) you will need to give some explanation as to why you need it. However, this doesn’t mean you have to give your full medical history - just relevant and useful information which will allow the university to support you as much as they can.
When should I disclose my disability?
Again, this is totally up to you. You may choose to tell the university as early as your UCAS application or perhaps later once you’ve started your course.
If you have decided to disclose this information it’s a good idea to do so as early as possible, so that the university can make all the necessary adjustments for you. For example, if you are going to an interview, you may need to tell them before the interview that you will require an accessible room or perhaps an interpreter if you are a sign language user.
Universities and colleges should give you further opportunities to be open about your disability throughout the admissions process and during your course (for example in the run-up to exams or before you start work placements.) If you do choose to tell the university then you should make contact with the disabilities office.
For more information on discussing your disability in an application, see our article ‘Navigating the application process: a guide for disabled students’.
Will I face discrimination as a result of disclosing my disability?
Universities and colleges have been expected to adhere to the Disability Discrimination Act since 2001 and the Equality Act since 2010. It would be unlawful for them to refuse you a place or treat you less favourably because of your disability.
Universities and colleges have well-developed systems and procedures for admitting disabled students and making sure they progress in their studies. They have lots of experience supporting students with additional needs and putting the appropriate support in place for all students. The only reason they ask for information about your disability so early in the application stage is so that they can make sure everything’s in place to support you and that you’ll have the best start possible.
Will the information I give to the university remain confidential?
Information about your disability is protected by the Equality Act and the Data Protection Act. It is sensitive personal information and cannot be passed onto anybody else without your permission. Universities and colleges have policies outlining which members of staff will be told about your disability. With your consent, this might include the disability adviser, your personal tutor, exams officer and individual lecturers.