Tips for Disclosing Your Disability

As individuals with disabilities we face tremendous challenges each and every day. One of the biggest challenges we face is the seemingly overwhelming task of explaining our needs to others.

Whether it is a close friend or a potential date, a school teacher or a supervisor at work, it is not easy to know how much to say or when to say it. I would like to share with you some of the tips that I use when I find it necessary to disclose to others.

1. Just Say Know

  • It is hard to explain to others something that you do not understand yourself. It is up to you to educate yourself so that you educate others.
  • Know your strengths. We all have talents and abilities. Know what yours are and feel good about them.
  • Know your weaknesses. We all have weaknesses we must work around. Be realistic and know your limitations.
  • Know what accommodations help you to do your best. Others can better accommodate you when you know exactly what to ask for.
  • Know what situations to stay away from. There are some situations that no accommodations overcome. Know what they are for you.

2. Be specific

  • Only tell what is necessary to only those who need to hear it. Be discreet and selective about disclosing; many people are not ready to hear what you have to say.
  • Say what you need to succeed, not why you can’t do it. Everybody loves a winner. Nobody loves a whiner.
  • Talk about a specific task or activity. People can learn better if you relate it to something they already know and understand.
  • Know the Problem, the Cause, and the Solution. Give the complete picture and have the answer on how you can succeed.

3. Have handouts

  • It is helpful to present the information in both spoken words and in written form. Also, having handouts can give credibility to what you are saying.
  • Articles or books about the disability and/or academic accommodations. Many good articles and books are available. Have copies to give out if you can. A list of articles or books giving the author, title, and publisher can be helpful, too.
  • Brochure about the disability and/or academic accommodations. Many good brochures are available through organizations such as the Association on Higher Education and Disability, Learning Disabilities Association and the International Dyslexia Association.
  • The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly list. Show how you perform in different conditions:
  • I’m a GOOD driver in light traffic on a simple route.
  • I’m not too BAD a driver with light traffic on a familiar route.
  • It gets UGLY with heavy traffic and a complex route.

4. Remember the 3 Rules to Teach Someone Else:

  • Tell me and I will forget. Just telling somebody what you need to succeed does not mean that you have their attention, understanding or support.
  • Show me and I will remember. Supporting your words with a picture, an article, or a demonstration will make it easier for others to listen and understand.
  • Involve me and I will understand. The greatest understanding and cooperation comes from working together with others to find a common solution. Let them help you find a way to work around your weaknesses.

We hope these tips are helpful. As you learn what works best for you, you will develop some additional tips of your own.

(adapted from Jimmie Shreve, PE)