- Self-disclosure is a complex process that impacts social, cultural, and individual contexts of people’s lives. Under ideal circumstances, disclosure strengthens social bonds, enhances intimacy in relationships, and fosters a more unified sense of the self. Disclosing information about a stigmatized identity, however, is associated with a variety of risks and benefits. The World Health Organization (2011) estimates that about 15% of the world’s population live with a disability, but only a fraction choose to disclose their disability-status to others. For university students, disability disclosure is often a request for accommodations. To create an environment in which students with disabilities are able to access accommodations and support, it is essential to have a more complete understanding of the factors that influence disclosure of one's disability.
The present study is a secondary analysis of data collected from Bogart, Rottenstein, Lund, and Bouchard’s, (in press) study on disability self-identification. 710 participants living in the U.S. completed an online survey measuring a variety of personal (i.e., age, ethnicity, gender), impairment (i.e., duration, visibility), and environmental (i.e., social support and stigma) factors that predict disability self-identification. Participants were also asked how frequently they disclose or discuss their disorder(s) with family, friends, acquaintances, work supervisors, coworkers, and teachers or professors. The predictors of disability self-disclosure chosen for the present study included perceived discrimination and visibility of one's disability.
Data analyses revealed that of the six groups participants reported disclosing to, teachers and professors were disclosed to least frequently. Both visibility and discrimination were significant predictors of overall disclosure and disclosure to teachers and professors. Perceived discrimination was a stronger predictor of disclosure to teachers and professors than it was for overall disclosure. This implies that discrimination may deter students from asking for accommodations out of fear of being stigmatized or treated differently. Future research should examine other factors that predict disclosure such as self-esteem, type and severity of disability, and age of onset. Together, these predictors can help inform disability policies in workplaces and on college campuses.