The need and the extent of the disclosure of the disability may need to be evaluated when issues related to safety of the student or the impact of the disability on others’ safety is at issue. If a student has a need for accommodation in on-campus housing, information about that need may be shared with those who need to know there is a valid request being made. The director of the health center and the person in residence life who place students in medical single rooms, for example, need to have this information. Does the student assistant or RA on the floor or in the suite need to know all of the details? Absolutely not. The student with a disability has a right to privacy as well as to having support for the housing needs.
In a classroom setting, a student may request additional time to take an exam or to have a test read or to have it scribed or to use a computer to write an essay exam. The professor does not need to see the documentation related to the disability or the test scores or medical reports that were used as documentation for the testing accommodations. If the student discloses the type of disability he or she has and its impact on how he/she learns best, that is fine and helpful for the professor. However, if the student does not wish to do this, it is not necessary that the faculty know specifically what the student’s disability is to provide assistance.
Some students have disabilities that are life-threatening or potentially fatal, such as AIDS or Hepatitis C. The concept of “universal precautions” means that we treat all students, not just those with disabilities, as if they had these diseases. We would require safety precautions in labs and classes where cuts and infections would possibly impact others’ health. Laws protect these students’ confidentiality to such an extreme that record-keeping is very carefully proscribed. The health center staff have the expertise to provide faculty with assistance in devising universal precaution guidelines if they are not in place.
This is a very confusing area that makes many faculty nervous about how and what they can do to provide assistance safely and impartially. Access, not necessarily guaranteed success academically, is the heart of the student with a disability’s needs. Respecting that personal privacy and working with the staff in the Disability Services Office who have obtained the documentation and signed releases to discuss student requests on a need to know basis foster a collaborative spirit that can only be helpful. Communication and support are useful tools we all can use.