Disabled students and staff: disclosing disability – introduction

There is not a lot written specifically about the issue of disclosing disability when studying or working in social care. The report by Stanley, Ridley, Manthorpe, Harris and Hurst (below – What we learned) offers the best source of information on this topic and has an extensive reference list for more information.

However, there is lot written about disability rights within the workplace, in the UK and internationally. Here, Scie summarises the latest thinking and resources on the subject. Good equal opportunity policies are part of good people management practice and evidence shows good practice in this area can improve recruitment and retention and, in turn, lead to improved outcomes for people who use services.

The most important research evidence resource on disclosure in social care employment is Maintaining Standards, Promoting Equality – an investigation commissioned by the former Disability Rights Commission (now part of the Equality and Human Rights Commission) looking the barriers people with impairments and long-term health conditions face in trying to pursue careers in teaching, nursing and social work across Great Britain. 

What we learned

● Disclosure of unseen disabilities has to be negotiated by students and practitioners throughout their studies and careers.

● The main barrier to disclosure is the belief that it will result in rejection from professional courses or jobs.

● Organisations can develop more “disability-friendly” policies, and be more transparent about the process of disclosure and support available.

● Disclosure, while legally required on registering with the General Social Care Council or Scottish Social Services Council, is still perceived as a risky strategy, despite laws against discrimination.

How we learned it

Researchers at the University of Central Lancashire and King’s College, London recruited a volunteer sample of 60 social workers, nurses, teachers, and students from all three professions, with the help of universities running training programmes in England, Scotland and Wales, and in response to articles in the national and professional press and on relevant websites. These described the study and asked for volunteers. Professionals and students were interviewed and key themes, similarities and differences between the three professional groups were explored.

Why it’s important

This research is informing the Disability Rights Commission’s Formal Investigation into Fitness Standards in Nursing, Teaching and Social Work. The Investigation reports in September 2007. While the professions need to be regulated, it is important that the process of regulation does not discriminate negatively against disabled practitioners and students. The study identified how disclosing an unseen disability such as a mental health problem or dyslexia, might be made easier for those in social work, nursing or teaching. Unless disabilities are disclosed, employers and universities/colleges cannot make the adjustments which can enable disabled people to participate in the workforce.

How it influences practice

● Disclosure of disability could be promoted by giving staff and students information about where the information disclosed goes, who has access to it and what happens next.

● Employers and training organisations can create disabled friendly environments by providing a key person to offer support and advice on disclosure and through training for managers who have to ensure that disability legislation is complied with.

● Seeing other disabled people supported in the workplace, University or College gives individuals with unseen disabilities the confidence to disclose.

● Individuals should know who has access to their disclosure.

Searching for more information online

Practitioners, researchers and students who want to search for more information about disclosing disability and equal opportunities in the workplace generally can find useful resources, policy and websites via social care search engines. Try entering the search terms “disclosure”, fitness standards’ and “disabilities”. It is worth noting that many conditions which involve issues of disclosure tend not to be labelled “disabilities”, so it may be useful to also try the search terms “mental health”, “long-term conditions”, “learning difficulties” and “dyslexia”. Useful terms in the wider field of employment and disabilities include “occupational health”, “employment law”, “employment rights”, and “equal opportunities”. To search for more information on disclosure and equal opportunities in the workplace

People management

The Scie People Management website includes self-assessment audits that employers can use to review and improve their human resource (or people management) policies and practice. As it is free to use, it is particularly helpful for social care organisations that may not have access to specialist personnel or human resource advice.


Stanley N, Manthorpe J and White M (2007). “Depression in the profession: social workers’ experiences and perceptions”, British Journal of Social Work, 37, 2, 281-298.

Stanley N, Ridley J, Manthorpe J, Harris J and Hurst A (2007). Disclosing Disability: Disabled students and practitioners in social work, nursing and teaching: A Research Study to Inform the Disability Rights Commission’s Formal Investigation into Fitness Standards, Disability Rights Commission

Related article

Learning by Experience: Disabled students and staff: disclosing disability

Relevant policy

Disability Discrimination Act (2005)

Special Educational Needs and Disability Act (2001)

Education And Training Improving the life chances of disabled people (2005)

Useful websites

Maintaining Standards, Promoting Equality 

Equality and Human Rights Commission 

Directgov: Disabled people: Your employment rights

 Association of Disabled Professionals 

Employer’s Forum on Disability 


Skill: National Bureau for Students with Disabilities 

Social Care Workforce Research Unit, Kings College London 


Julie Ridley, senior research fellow, University of Central Lancashire

Nicky Stanley, professor of social work, University of Central Lancashire,

Jill Manthorpe, professor of social work, Social Care Workforce Research Unit, King’s College London,

Jess Harris, research fellow, Social Care Workforce Research Unit, King’s College London,


● Contributions welcome. Go to www.communitycare.co.uk/StaticPages/contact.html#learning for guidelines


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