Postgraduate students with disability or learning challenge: choosing non-disclosure and ‘going it alone’

Year: 2018

Author: Grimes, Susan, Southgate, Erica, Scevak, Jill, Buchanan, Rachel

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Students with disabilities (SWD) in higher education populations are little understood with existing research focussed on domestic undergraduate (DOM UG) students. While research has shown that there is a significant number of non-disclosed SWD in the DOM UG population, very little has been explored around SWD, disclosed or non-disclosed, in the domestic postgraduate coursework (DOM PGC) population; a population that is increasing in size.
This presentation will examine the characteristics of a sample of domestic postgraduate coursework (DOM PGC) students from a regional university (n=405) that includes those who would be eligible for support and accommodation (n=107) as students with disability (SWD). Within this group, the majority (n=84) are institutionally non-disclosed. These DOM PGC students identified that they are legally eligible for learning support but have chosen to remain hidden and silent, without support and accommodation for their learning. The majority live with mental health issues which they acknowledged impacts their ability to engage with, and complete, their studies.
Through an anonymous online survey consisting of both quantitative and qualitative questions, DOM PGC students identified their reasons for non-disclosure.  Reasons given included that they: have strategies to deal with learning; were not aware that there was assistance; did not perceive that they needed help from the institution; and that the help offered would not be useful to them. Open-ended responses revealed that students: did not receive help in the workplace, so did not expect it at university; were embarrassed to ask for help; and/or did not think their diagnoses would be eligible for help.
Comparisons between DOM PGC and the DOM UG non-disclosed SWD from the same survey showed differences that included increased incidence of non-disclosure and much higher proportions of mental health issues in the DOM PGC group. Suggestions for supporting non-disclosed PGC students group are explored.