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The Importance of Confidentiality

We are required by Title I of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), as well as section 19-11-95 of the South Carolina Code, to protect the confidentiality of students with disabilities: "A breach of the duty may result in liability to the patient." These laws prohibit us from revealing any information regarding a student's disability and/or accommodations to any one else without that person's consent "unless you are allowed or required to do so by law."

Since the ADA is fairly new legislation, the interpretation of the statute is not yet quite clear. In the following situations, students felt that their right to confidentiality was breached. Whether these examples would be considered a breach of confidentiality in a court of law, we do not know. However, these examples are presented to promote sensitivity which is our goal with or without legislation.

  1. A student has been approved to receive SNAP Services and has requested extended test time. The test is distributed and the professor states all tests are to be turned in at the end of class. Then the professor glances at the student with the disability and says, "Except you. You can finish your test in my office." This statement was probably made to reassure the student that he or she had not forgotten that the student was allowed extended test time. However, the student with a disability perceived it as a breach of his or her confidentiality. The other students in the classroom were not aware that this particular student had been granted accommodations.
  2. Some students have felt confidentiality has been compromised when an instructor asked students at the beginning of the semester why they were taking the class. If SNAP students taking the class to fulfill the foreign language alternative requirement answered truthfully, they would reveal their status as SNAP students thus breaching confidentiality. Instructors can avoid this potentially awkward situation and still use this teaching technique by offering guided questions that provide students the language needed to participate in class discussion without revealing their status as SNAP students. Questions such as "How many of you are taking this class as a requirement?" or "How many of you need this class to graduate?" would give SNAP students a way to truthfully answer the question without revealing their disability status.

In social or classroom situations, we should avoid identifying the name of a student with a disability or the disability itself. In particular, a student's disability should never be discussed without permission with another student no matter how close you determine their relationship to be. All conversations regarding a student's disability should be conducted privately unless initiated by the student.

When determining if a student's requested accommodation is reasonable, ask:

Does it
  • affect an essential component of the course?
  • affect the primary purpose of the test?
  • constitute a fundamental alteration of the class?
  • compromise the integrity of the test?
  • cause undue financial hardship?
  • cause undue administrative hardship?
  • pose a safety threat to the student or others?
  • pose a health threat to the student or others?
  • If the answer to any of the above questions is "yes," another accommodation should be considered. Call a SNAP administrator (953-1431) if you and the student need assistance in determining an appropriate accommodation.

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    Contact CDS Updated 03/11/02