Maintaining Student Confidentiality

Information about student disabilities is confidential. Although you may be informed of a student's disability status or accommodation needs, you may not share this information with others unless the student specifically requests you do so. Federal law mandates this policy and Accessibility Services supports it.

Although we wish otherwise, discrimination often occurs because of negative attitudes and misconceptions about the potential of people with disabilities. Thus, many students remain hesitant to disclose their disability status and guard their confidentiality closely.

We understand that the information you get from Accessibility Services students or our office may occasionally seem vague, and this can be frustrating. Your desire for more information is in the interest of better instruction for our students. However, the U.S. Department of Justice has decided that faculty members do not need to know what a student's disability is, only that the accommodations the student has have been granted by Accessibility Services.

What do faculty have a right to know?

Students who want accommodations in your class should be introducing themselves as a student with a disability and showing you an official Accessibility Services document (called the Determination of Accommodations) that proves their registration with us and specifies their accommodations. They should initiate a discussion with you about how these accommodations will be used and arranged. It's best to discuss these matters away from other students, such as during office hours.

You have a right to contact the student's disability counselor or other provider in the Accessibility Services if you have questions or concerns about an accommodation or need the Accessibility Services' help in arranging for an accommodation. (For example, many professors prefer to have Accessibility Services proctor students' accommodated exams and they will need to be aware of our policies when using this service.)

What information can students keep to themselves?

Students do not need to disclose the name of their disability (diagnosis), details or history of the disability, accompanying symptoms, or treatment plan. However, some students will choose to share this information of their own accord to give professors a better understanding of their challenges, coping skills, or goals. 

Can faculty speak to the Accessibility Services office about Accessibility Services students?

Absolutely! We can answer general questions, listen to your concerns, and discuss arranging accommodations for a student who has requested them. Beyond that, unless a student has given us permission, we will not disclose the nature of their disability or other information they have shared with us in the context of intake or counseling sessions. 

Can faculty speak to colleagues in their department about Accessibility Services students?

We're aware that some departments hold meetings in which time is set aside to discuss student issues, including those students who are struggling to learn curriculum, are behaving in a questionable manner, or have otherwise identified themselves as needing extra support or disciplinary action. Discussing such issues in a group format allows faculty to take different perspectives and approaches to problem solving. In this way, faculty members learn from one another.

Though these types of meetings are in the interest of helping students, we caution instructors against disclosing the names or identifying information of students in these meetings. At the least, when discussing students with disabilities, never disclose the student's disability to others unless you have the student's written consent to do so.    

The only time disclosure of private student information is acceptable without the student's consent is when an immediate or serious safety concern comes up, such as when a student appears to be a threat to themselves or others.

How should faculty communicate with Accessibility Services students?

First, never discuss a student's disability or accommodations in the presence of other students, staff, or faculty. Arrange to meet with the Accessibility Services student in your office or in a private classroom instead. When speaking with Accessibility Services students, don't ask them to disclose their disabilities, but inquire about their difficulties, the challenges they face in your classroom, or how you can help. Ask the student before bringing another faculty or staff member into conversations that might include the student's disability.

Remember that email is not a secure form of communication so be careful about sending messages containing student names with disability information. When leaving phone messages for Accessibility Services students, don't refer to a disability. Simply leave your name, phone number, and the best time to reach you.

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