Learning Support Responsibilities Preparation

Appropriate use of disabled learners personal information


A safe environment exists for disabled learners and tauira to provide personal  impairment information and there are effective systems for communicating  relevant, timely and appropriate learning support information to both staff and  disabled learners. 

Best practice standards

  • Impairment information is only sought to arrange support and disseminated only to staff on a ‘need to know’ basis, with the learner’s permission.
  • Staff receive information about the individual needs of disabled learners in a clear, effective and timely way.
  • Staff protect an individual’s privacy and only disclose impairment information with the learner’s permission and for the provision of effective learning support.
  • A safe environment is created for learners to disclose impairment  information in line with the disclosure provisions in the Health and Disability Commissioner Act and Privacy Act.

“We encourage disclosure with a statement that goes in course outlines, so that  learners know they can come to us for information and support. The learner can  decide who should know about their support needs. We don’t send information  out to an academic before the learner has come to see us.” 

“Almost all of the learners had experienced what I would call being ‘outed’ by  one of their lecturers or tutors ... someone making a public comment, usually  with the best of intentions, but even so, a public comment so that suddenly  everybody knew that person had a disability. Whereas for our learners with  non-obvious disabilities, who didn’t want all their peers to know, they found  that particularly difficult ... We think we tell staff about confidentiality and  disclosure, but I don’t think they always see the finer points.” 

- Disability Support Services Staff.

Ideas and resources

Creating a safe environment for learners to provide impairment information  includes: 

  • Getting their permission and deciding with them who ‘needs to know’.  
  • Only providing information about what the learner requires in terms of their learning support needs (the impact), rather than information about their diagnosis.  
  • All staff realising this is personal information and should be provided on a ‘needs to know’ basis and only provided to other people with the permission of the learner.  
  • Policies and procedures on confidentiality of health information that protect the privacy of an individual’s impairment information, in line with the Privacy Act. 
  • Providing staff training about appropriate use of this information and checking all staff and disabled learners understand these policies and procedures, including the reasons for notification, gathering information for monitoring and who has access.
  • Ensuring learners are not required to continually repeat verification of impairments. 
  • Explaining to learners the benefit of providing this personal information to determine learning support needs and how this information will be kept confidential.  
  • Having questions for disabled learners in application forms that are reassuring, outline the purpose for collecting information and are linked to a statement that staff will endeavour to offer support. 
  • Encouraging learners to create a guideline around their learning support needs.  

What you need to know

  • The Privacy Commissioner has developed some health information, privacy code fact sheets, which provide the boundaries around health information. These provide guidelines for collecting, storage, access and  talking about health information of disabled people.  
  • Health information should be collected directly from the individual. It  should only be used for the purpose for which it was collected and the  person providing this information should be aware of that purpose and give  permission to share this information and to whom. 
  • In a tertiary environment, health information about a disabled learner should  not be shared with a staff member until the disabled learner has given their  permission and authorised this. The individual should also be able to view  the information collected and have the opportunity to correct mistakes. 
  • The only exception is when disclosure will prevent or lessen a serious  or imminent threat to public health or safety or to the life or health of the  individual concerned or another individual. In these circumstances staff need  to be able to justify their actions in terms of the Privacy Act. 
  • There have been some recent changes to the Privacy Act to reflect changes  in the wider economy and society and to ensure it is fit for the technological  world in which we live. 
  • Information Sheet 5 includes information about changes to the privacy  principles. For example, ‘personal information may only be disclosed to  organisations in other countries where there are similar protections to those  in the New Zealand Privacy Act and businesses and organisations must take  reasonable steps to protect unique identifiers from being misused. Health  information could be regarded as this. 

Engaging disabled learners

Involve these learners in the development policy and procedures around appropriate use of disabled learners’ personal information.

Check that they are comfortable with how these are being implemented and if they have concerns and ideas for service improvement. 


If learners tell someone within the institution about their impairment, then the tertiary institution may not be able to claim that it did not know if there is a failure to offer support and adaptations from teaching staff.

  • For example, a learner declares their impairments and related support on an application form.

People have a right to request that their impairment information is treated confidentially. This may result in alternative support.

  • For example, a learner with a vision impairment is very embarrassed by his impairment. Normally large-print handouts would be provided in class. However, handouts are given in advance so that he can look at them before class, so he does not have to be seen reading them during the class. 

Useful links


This page is current as of May 2022 Print this page