For an HE institution to establish a disabled student's individual needs it is necessary for the student to disclose information about their disability to their institution. However, it is the student's choice whether or not they disclose. They usually have the opportunity to do so on their application form or through the data they provide for student records.
A disabled student may decide to bypass formal systems and come and talk to you personally about their needs. Or a student may be unaware that the support systems exist or, in the case of some hidden disabilities, such as dyslexia or mental health difficulties, not know that they are entitled to use them.
But even when you know the medical diagnosis or the name of the impairment it is not the same as knowing what a student’s needs might be. Different individuals with the same impairment may have very different needs, depending on the following factors.
- The type or extent of their impairment - for example, the term ‘dyslexia’ describes a broad range of specific learning difficulties and not all students with dyslexia have the same needs.
- The student’s previous educational experience - have they already developed effective study skills and strategies as a disabled person, or have they only recently been diagnosed (e.g. with dyslexia or mental health difficulties), or only recently become disabled?
- The nature of the course they are registered for - a blind student on a sports science course may have different needs to one studying history.
- The teaching strategies used on the course - does it have field trips, is self-directed study a particular feature?
- The level of the course - postgraduate study may be more demanding and require different skills to an undergraduate course.
This section will help you to understand the issues around disclosure and assessment of needs by
- explaining the factors that may impact on the identification of disabled students’ needs
- providing examples of institutional systems for identifying needs
- emphasisising the importance of using existing information systems within your institution
- urging a proactive strategy for publicising the services available for disabled students
- explaining the importance of disclosure of disability and how you can facilitate this
- discussing what to do if confidentiality is requested
- introducing the role and purpose of the Disabled Students’ Allowances.
- The DEMOS Online Materials for Staff Disability Awareness includes a flow chart to show the processing of an application from a disabled person by an institution. This can be used as a basis for developing or improving a system within your own institution.
- The DfES publication, Bridging the Gap is a useful guide to DSAs.