Identity, support and disclosure: Issues facing university students with invisible disabilities

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Cultural Foundations of Education


Steven J. Taylor


Support, Disclosure, University students, Disabilities, IdentitySupport, Disclosure, University students, Disabilities, Identity

Subject Categories

Education | Social and Philosophical Foundations of Education | Special Education and Teaching


Since the mid 1970s universities and colleges have had a legal obligation to provide accommodations for students with disabilities. The number of students with disabilities has grown significantly since that time, and universities have created new administrative supports and structures to assist these students.

This study examines the experiences of students with invisible disabilities on college campuses. The study looks at how the students negotiate disclosing their disability and passing for non-disabled, how the students do and do not identify with their disability label, and who students turn to for support, both academic and social.

The study uses qualitative methodology through in-depth semi-structured interviews to ascertain the students' opinions and feelings about their college experience.

The primary findings of this research are: the desire to pass or hide the disability is a common and logical desire, stemming from past experiences. Students will work to keep disability information a secret to the greatest extent possible. Students with invisible disabilities do not necessarily perceive themselves as disabled. Categorizing them together as a group is not logical to the students. Students use natural supports more readily than they do the formal supports available to them.


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