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Discussing your Disability and Related Needs

While you are at university, you will sometimes want to tell other people about your disability. Sometimes you will need to tell them so that they can make adjustments. This guidance is to help you think about what to say and how to say it, so you can discuss your disability and related needs with confidence.

Who is this guidance for?

This guidance is intended for students who have already disclosed to the University that they are disabled (for instance, on the UCAS form, at enrolment, or by telling the Disability and Dyslexia Service). However, it may also be useful for people still considering making a formal disclosure.

When might I have to talk to someone about my disability?

Once you have disclosed your disability to the University there are systems to pass this information on, with your permission, to member of staff that need to know. However, there may be times when you need to discuss your disability, for instance:

  • when you need to be involved in the decision making;
  • when having a Needs Assessment for the Disabled Students Allowance;
  • when organising specific adjustments with academic members of staff;
  • when making arrangements for placements or organising work experience;
  • with your thesis or dissertation supervisor

You may also want some people to know, even if they don't need to act on the information.

General Principles

You can decide how much information and what types of information you wish to share.  You do not have to discuss detailed personal or medical information about your disability or impairment.

It may be helpful to:

  • think about where your own privacy boundaries are;
  • be brief and consider whether using medical terms will be helpful;
  • focus on what is relevant to this person: for instance, you may only need to discuss issues related to studying and other areas of your life may be irrelevant;
  • practice talking about your disability to someone you trust.

Think about why you are telling this person. In many cases, you will only need to discuss how your disability or impairment affects your capacity to learn and perform effectively.

It may be helpful to:

  • think bout situations where you had difficulties in the past and describe what you did to address them;
  • be specific about the activity where you need an adjustment, and explain why it is a concern;
  • make sure you can explain your skills and strengths to other people.

Think about when and where you will be most comfortable discussing your disability.

  • try to pick a time when you and the person you are talking to have the time and privacy for a calm discussion;
  • you may want to email in advance to check their availability - you don't need to give details in the email, you could just explain that you have some questions about the course;
  • make sure you ask for advice and help as soon as you need it - do not let difficult situations continue.

If you are making arrangements for placements, work experience or field study, consider the following suggestions:

  • ask questions to make sure you understand the nature of the activity or the environment you will be in. Find out what will be expected of you;
  • be open to considering new strategies and solutions, especially if the environment or activity is new to you;
  • visit the disability service to out about the type of support available to you - it is important that you are well informed about you own adjustments and support, particularly if you will be away from the university;
  • clarify what you are responsible for, what the Disability and Dyslexia Service is responsible for and what will be the responsibility of the School/department/member of staff;
  • be prepared to educate your tutor: they may not understand the benefits of an adjustment, or they may be unfamiliar with type of support.

Misunderstandings in communications

If you do need to discuss your disability, you will find most staff respond in a positive way and will be flexible in their approach to provide suitable arrangements. However, there may be instances when a member of staff is not familiar with disability issues, or may feel uncomfortable with some of the adjustments that you request.

If you experience any difficulty with requests for alternative arrangements:

  • do not get into an argument with the lecturer/tutor;
  • seek advice from the Disability and Dyslexia Service;
  • discuss the issue with your personal tutor or the School disability contact.

Remember: you are under no legal or ethical obligation to tell the University that you are disabled. The decision to disclose your disability or impairment is yours to make. However, there may be adjustments or support that can not be put in place unless you disclose your disability. Lack of appropriate reasonable adjustments and support can lead to difficulties with succeeding in your studies and, in some cases, difficulties in meeting professional bodies' standards for competency or fitness to practice.