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Definition and types of Disclosure

Disclosure Definition

From a student perspective, disclosure is defined as the moment in which a student communicates that they are Deaf, Hard of Hearing or DeafBlind or have a disability. This may occur informally to professors and peers or it may be more of a formal communication to the university as an official request to access accommodations (De Cesarei, 2015).

From an employment perspective, disclosure is defined as “the process of an employee informing their employer of a disability/impairment” (Brunner, 2007, 8)

Types of Disclosure:

There are 3 types of disclosure and many people may use each type in different situations:

  1. Selective – choosing to disclose to a restricted number of people, while retaining some level of secrecy. (e.g. telling the instructor of a course)
  2. Indiscriminate – making no active effort to conceal. (e.g. bringing a sign language interpreter into the classroom)
  3. Broadcasting – seeking out opportunities to disclose in order to educate people (Irvine, 2011). (e.g. discussing that being Deaf is a cultural minority as opposed to a disability during a classroom discussion)

This video illustrates information from the book Why Am I Afraid to Tell You Who I Am? (Powell, 1999), where five levels of communication related to disclosure are outlined. Not only do these apply to disclosure of your hearing status and/or disability; however, they may provide some insight into the process of disclosing. 

The 5 levels of disclosure are:
  1. Cliché conversation – No disclosure takes place. There is acknowledgement of other people’s presence in an attempt to present oneself as nonthreatening and a safe person to be around.
    • For example, individuals may discuss topics, such as the weather or ask, “How are you?” expecting the other person to say “Good. How are you?”. Some refer to this level of communication as “small talk”.
  2. Reporting the facts about others – individuals communicate beyond “small talk”, but no disclosure takes place. Others can discern a little about you from the topics you choose to engage in.
    • For example, you may mention a television show (Switched at Birth) or an actor (Nyle DiMarco) to a fellow student without sharing any opinions; however, this may tell the other person that this TV show or person is of interest to you.


3. Expressing ideas and judgments – expression of conscious thoughts, opinions, and theories. Disclosure is filtered through some self-censorship.

For example, sharing that you support the World Federation of the Deaf Youth Section (WFDYS) lets others have insight that human rights for Deaf youth matters to you, which may present some risk in how others think of you. However, this risk is carefully calculated prior to sharing your opinion.

4. Expressing feelings and emotions on the “gut level” – individual uniqueness is communicated, and feelings are expressed with honesty. Genuine disclosure begins to take place for the purpose of improving relationships, growing and maturing, and bringing out the honesty of others.

For example, in an open and honest conversation with a fellow student you share that you struggle to hear in a coffee shop due to the background noise.

5. Peak communication – honest and open self-disclosure that may be triggered by unexpected events, which allows two people to share a moment of mutual empathy. This type of disclosure is most likely shared with a close friend, spouse, or family member.

For example, a friend’s daughter has recently received a cochlear implant which provides you an opportunity to be open about receiving your cochlear implant and how it has affected you.