An Investigation of Factors that Influence Disability Self-Disclosure in Post-Secondary Students

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When students with disabilities transition to postsecondary school, they must self-disclose their disability to their institution to receive accommodations. Despite the positive educational outcomes associated with receiving accommodations, many students with disabilities who received accommodations in high school do not go on to self-disclose to receive accommodations in postsecondary school. This study investigated factors that facilitate attitudes towards and the behavior of disability self-disclosure by postsecondary students for accommodations, including quality of transition support, self-determination (self-realization and psychological empowerment), and disability identity. Undergraduate participants were recruited for a survey-based study via university listservs and were included in the study if they had previously received accommodations in high school via an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or a 504 plan, identified as having a nonapparent diagnosis, disability, or learning difference that impacted them educationally, and had attended college for at least one semester. Within the sample (n=285), 67.6% of the participants had registered with their college or university to receive accommodations. Surprisingly, almost half of the participants in this study (45.6%) did not identify as individuals with a disability despite being legally qualified as students with disabilities in high school. Regressions and path analyses were conducted to determine the factors that significantly predicted self-disclosure attitudes and behaviors (i.e., registering for accommodations). The results indicated that high-quality transition experiences in high school positively predicted attitudes towards requesting accommodations and registering for accommodations. Furthermore, a significant indirect effect was found between the quality of transition support and attitudes toward requesting accommodations via disability identity. Contrary to hypotheses, while quality of transition predicted self-determination factors, self-determination factors did not significantly predict self-disclosure attitudes or registering for accommodations. Further exploring quality of transition factors (i.e., school support, home support, and direct discussions about registering with disability services) as predictors, having direct discussions about registering was found to directly predict self-disclosure attitudes and behaviors. A significant indirect effect was also found between school support and attitudes towards requesting accommodations via disability identity. Results of this study highlight the importance of instilling a positive disability identity to drive the self-disclosure process, as well as having direct discussions with students about the processes and procedures for disability self-disclosure during postsecondary transition. Finally, recommendations for secondary and postsecondary institutions were provided for preparing students with disabilities to navigate postsecondary disability services, and further implications for practice and research were discussed.