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Non-disclosing students with disabilities or learning challenges: characteristics and size of a hidden population

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Internationally, university students with disabilities (SWD) are recognised as being under-represented in higher education. They face significant problems accessing appropriate accommodations for their disability. Academic outcomes for this group are lower in terms of achievement and graduation rates. The true size of the SWD group at university is suggested to be different to that reported due to students not disclosing their disability for a variety of reasons including stigma, fear of discrimination, past negative experiences, and gaps in knowledge about available institutional support and accommodations. Research suggests that students do not consider their issues to fall under the term disability, resulting in a hidden population of students who could be better supported by their university. Using an Australian regional university as a case study, this paper examines the SWD population by identifying both disclosed and non-disclosed SWD populations within the domestic undergraduate population as well as information on the nature of students’ diagnoses or assessment, not previously captured. Using an anonymous online survey which reframed disability using the non-deficit language of learning challenge, the population of those dealing with learning challenges, disclosed and non-disclosed, was identified and a population estimate calculated. Student characteristics that predicted non-disclosure and specific information on the nature of students’ diagnoses were made and have the potential to develop targeted institutional support for a population that is currently difficult to access.

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We acknowledge the support and research grant from the equity unit of the university. The university executive unit provided support and access to the students of the institution, and granted permission to publish the results of the survey. Professor Mardi Dungey, University of Tasmania, was generous with expertise regarding the use of the DSE methodology.

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Correspondence to Susan Grimes.

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Grimes, S., Scevak, J., Southgate, E. et al. Non-disclosing students with disabilities or learning challenges: characteristics and size of a hidden population. Aust. Educ. Res. 44, 425–441 (2017).

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