College Resources: Discussing Disabilities

Family Modules

Module 4 Part 5



Objective: The student will formulate at least 3 appropriate responses to questions about disabilities posed from peers.

This lesson is designed to help you feel comfortable when discussing your disability with Disability Support Services, professors, advisors, colleagues, and peers.

Estimated time 30 minutes

Materials included:

Materials needed:

Curriculum Link:

This section corresponds with Module 4 Activity 2 in the College Bound Transition curriculum resources.

Learn About It

College students with disabilities have said that in elementary, middle, and high school they experienced stigma attached to having a disability. In the public school system, you did not have control over who knew about your disability. College is different from high school because you will use your discretion as to whom you will tell about personal disabilities.

Embracing Dyslexia: The Interviews - Paul Vasquez

Who Needs to Know?

Certain people will need to know about your disability in order to support you effectively in college. These people include:

  • Disability Support Services personnel
  • Your professors
  • Your advisors
  • People you work with in a professional capacity.

Think about why it would be important to let these people know.

The people whose role it is to support you in your academic and professional goals will most likely need to know about your disability so that they can help you most effectively.

Should I Tell My Peers?

Although most college students have had positive experiences telling peers about their disabilities, deciding whom to tell is a personal decision based on:

  • Who is asking: Is it a friend or just a casual acquaintance?
  • Why the person is asking: Is the question asked out of curiosity or animosity?
  • Past experiences: You may have had only positive or neutral experiences with peers knowing about your disability, while other students may have been the subject of teasing or ridicule from peers about the same disability. This makes a big difference in how each person will approach disclosure in college.
  • Personality differences: Some people are open with personal details while others are more guarded. It is important for you to know that having a disability doesn’t make you better or worse than the next person; it is simply a part of who you are.

How Will People Know?

A male students takes notes in class.

As you make friends in classes, they may notice some differences, such as:

  • Assistive technology you use
  • Modifications you use when taking tests
  • Your structured schedule or extra study time
  • Your use of tutoring services.

These questions are not typically critical or judgmental, but simply asked out of curiosity. Think about ways to not take offense to questions, but to see them as sincere inquiries.


It is OK to be open with everyone you talk to about your disability and to tell them all about you.

It is also OK to keep your personal information…personal.

You can strike a balance between giving honest answers without disclosing everything about yourself.

Rocks balanced on a stick.

The Balancing Act

These are some sample questions and answers that demonstrate being honest without disclosing your disability.

Q: Why weren’t you in class for the test?

A: I took the test. I was just sitting in a different place than I normally sit.

Q: How do you know so much about tutoring?

A: I’ve talked to some people who gave me good advice about how to do well in college. I decided that I’d use the resources available. I can give you the information if you’d like it.

Q: Your schedule is completely full and your planner is packed. Why do you spend so much time studying during the day?

A: It helps me get organized and stay on track. It makes it so much easier to remember my assignments and finish them all on time. It also helps me to know that I’m on top of my coursework, so when I have free time I can really relax and have fun.

Parents Chime In

  • Role-play the following scenarios with your student. He or she can play themselves answering the questions in the role-play scenario; you will play the role of the person described in the scenario.
  • After each scenario, discuss how your student felt discussing his or her disability. Talk about what was easy to answer and what was hard to answer.
  • Talk about why it is important for your student to tell certain people about his or her disability.
  • Discuss character traits of a trustworthy peer and ways to be honest without revealing more than makes your student comfortable.
  • Talk about ways to hear questions as sincere inquiries rather than taking offense.

Professional Scenario

You have recently looked at your IEP, begun to create your SOP, set goals for yourself, and discussed your strengths and weaknesses.

Now it is time to put these insights into practice. Act as if you are talking to your advisor (this is your parent’s role). Tell your advisor about your strengths and weaknesses, including your disabilities. Do not forget to mention your goals.

clapper board with role play written on it.

Peer Scenarios

  • Suppose that one of your modifications is to take tests in a separate location with extended time. The person who sits beside you in class (this is your parent’s role) asks you why you are never in class for tests. This person regularly falls asleep in class, seems more interested in his phone than the lecture, and only talks to you when he needs information about the class. What would you say?
  • Suppose that you have begun to make a friend (this is your parent’s role) in your biology lab. You have met for lunch on campus a few times, and you always work together in the lab. She asks you why your schedule is so structured, why your planner is so full, and why you study so much during the day. What would you say?
  • Suppose that you have spoken several times to the person who sits behind you in class (this is your parent’s role), but never on a personal level. You have heard him complaining about his difficulty learning the material and his low grades on tests. One day you tell him about tutoring opportunities that are available to all students. He is grateful, but wants to know how you know so much about tutoring. What would you say?
Bullhorn with word 'action' at the end of it.

Journal Response

In the journal section of your transition notebook:

  • Write about what you learned from the role-play scenarios.
  • Whom should you tell about your disability?
  • You will never know until you are in a situation, but at this point, who else do you think you will tell about your disability?
  • Write 3 responses you can give people if they ask you questions and you do not want to reveal your disability.

Objective Check

Have you accomplished today's objective?

Objective: The student will formulate at least 3 appropriate responses to questions about disabilities posed from peers.

If so, congratulations!

If not, talk with your parents, a teacher, or a guidance counselor about suggestions they may have for responding to questions about disabilities that peers may ask.