Disability Documentation and Confidentiality Policy


The University has an obligation to confirm that students receiving accommodations have verified disabilities. It has charged the McBurney Disability Resource Center with the verification and accommodation recommendation responsibility for students. The McBurney Center requests disability documentation1 from students and develops accommodation and service recommendations from this information. Most commonly, disclosure occurs when a student is requesting an accommodation recommended by the McBurney Center.

Disability-related information provided to the McBurney Disability Resource Center is considered an educational record; therefore it falls under the protection of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). FERPA permits the McBurney Center to share information about the impact of a disability and accommodation eligibility with other UW-Madison school officials who have a legitimate educational interest. A school official includes but is not limited to faculty and instructional staff, residence life staff, academic deans and advisors, police and security, and counseling or health center staff. Legitimate educational interest means the school official needs to review an educational record or receive educational record information in order to fulfill his or her professional responsibilities. Sharing this information does not require student consent under FERPA.

Disclosure of educational record information to a UW-Madison school official having a legitimate educational interest does not, however, constitute authorization for that person to transmit, share, or disclose any or all of that information to a third party who does not have a legitimate educational interest.

1 Disability documentation : all records related to the health, intellectual, academic, emotional or physical well-being of an individual prepared by an educational professional or health care provider, including but not limited to physicians, nurses, therapists, psychologists, social workers, and counselors.

Disclosure: Risk of Harm to Self or Others

Under FERPA, McBurney staff will share all necessary disability documentation with appropriate school officials or relevant others (e.g., police, family members, community providers, etc.) when the student is determined by McBurney staff or other school officials to be, or potentially be, at risk of harm to self or others. Student consent is not needed. Records that may be shared under these circumstances include copies of case notes, psycho-educational or psychological reports, hospital or other medical records, the McBurney VISA or other educational records contained in the student’s file.

McBurney Verified Individual Services and Accommodation (VISA) Plan

The McBurney Verified Individual Services and Accommodation (VISA) plan is a record of the accommodations and services the Center is recommending for a student. The VISA contains an acknowledgement all students sign prior to the activation of the VISA. By signing, students are indicating they understand that in order for McBurney staff to coordinate, advise or administer requested accommodations, disclosure of disability information may occur with other campus personnel. The purpose of signing the VISA form is to maintain a record that students understand the Center’s policy and protocol on disclosure of disability information.

Most commonly, students show their VISA to faculty or other school officials as the written verification that they have a disability and are eligible for the accommodations they are requesting. The VISA confirms for the faculty or other school official that a student has been determined to have a disability and an accommodation is needed. Additionally, it would be appropriate for McBurney staff to confirm that the student is registered with the McBurney Center (i.e., has a disability) to a faculty member who wants to verify the legitimacy of a requested accommodation. For example, confirming to a faculty member that a test accommodation has been recommended for a particular student is appropriate because faculty have a legitimate educational interest in test taking processes for all students.

Under FERPA, McBurney staff does not need prior consent to explain why an accommodation has been recommended, or to arrange a specific classroom accommodation. For example, the McBurney staff would explain the functional limitation posed by the disability (e.g., processing speed deficit) and its impact the student (i.e., slower reading rate resulting in a recommendation for extended test time). This is typically done without disclosing the disability name (e.g., learning disability, traumatic brain injury, epilepsy, etc.). Often, the additional information clarifies the fairness of the accommodation relative to the disadvantage the student would have without the accommodation.

A McBurney staff may also communicate with faculty prior to student disclosure in order to arrange essential classroom accommodations that take considerable time to arrange or produce (e.g., conversion of print to audio or Braille, captioned media, etc.). This disclosure assists the faculty or other school official in understanding the relationship between the disability and the accommodation and the need for academic information (e.g., textbook or video information) to provide mandated services.

It would not be appropriate however for McBurney staff to disclose a student’s disability status prior to the student’s self-disclosure as a means for school officials to anticipate the need for an accommodation, when an accommodation might not be needed. A student is not required to disclose disability status when there is no need for an accommodation in a class or other campus setting (e.g., residence hall, student organization, employment). For example, a student who is eligible for test accommodations may choose to forego disclosure in a class where grades are primarily based on projects and papers.

Timely Disclosure

Students have the right to disclose specific disability information as they choose. Students are also responsible for disclosing in a timely manner when requesting accommodations. Students are always encouraged to request accommodations well in advance of receiving the accommodation to allow school officials, including McBurney staff, to arrange for the accommodation to be provided. McBurney service training emphasizes that delaying appropriate disclosure can result in students not receiving an accommodation for a particular activity or in a particular setting or environment because insufficient time is available to arrange or provide the accommodation.

Records Release: When Consent Is Required

Written consent is required for the release of records to non-school officials. This includes but is not limited to a standardized testing agency (e.g., GRE, LSAC, MCAT, etc.), an HR office for job accommodations, or another higher education institution. McBurney staff will provide disability documentation to a specified individual or entity after a student has provided written authorization or consent. Students are responsible for specifying what information they wish to share and with whom in a release of information form provided by McBurney or the requesting agency.

Disability Documentation Storage

Disability documentation can be paper and electronic. Paper documentation of a permanent disability is housed in a McBurney student file for the duration of a student’s enrollment at UW Madison. It is then archived for an additional seven years past the last date of enrollment before being destroyed. Paper documentation of a temporary disability 2 is housed in a McBurney student file for the length of time the student is considered to have a disability. It is then archived for an additional seven years before being destroyed. Electronic records of a student’s accommodation history are maintained on a secure campus server for 75 years. McBurney records are maintained separate from the UW Madison data warehouse.

Disability status or accommodation information shared by the student or McBurney staff with other school officials may be recorded in other campus data storage systems. This information may be available to school officials who have a legitimate educational interest. It is archived and maintained on that campus entity’s records retention schedule.

2Temporary Disability : The ADAAA recognizes that an condition that lasts or is expected to last fewer than 6 months may still be considered a disability if it substantially limits a major life activity for the duration of the functional limitation.


To summarize:

  1. Student disability records are educational records. Access to those records is governed by FERPA,
  2. The university has an obligation to confirm disability status and, under FERPA, the right for appropriate staff to share relevant disability-related information about students with appropriate school officials who have a legitimate educational interest,
  3. Disability documentation records are shared with appropriate school officials and  relevant others (e.g., police, family members, community providers, etc.) when a student may be at risk of harm to self or others
  4. By signing the VISA plan, students acknowledge that some level of disclosure to faculty and school officials may occur in order to implement requested accommodations,
  5. Written consent is required for the release of records to non-school officials.

Related Information

Related Documents

Policy Owner

McBurney Disability Resource Center