PhD Profile: Fady Shanouda Explores Disability Disclosure in Higher Education

 University students with non-visible disabilities are faced with a challenging decision: do they disclose their disability, or work to ‘pass’ as a non-disabled student?

PhD candidate Fady Shanouda knows first-hand the complexities associated with both hiding and exposing a non-visible disability, and has devoted his doctoral research to explore the consequences of disclosure in higher education.

Students sitting in lecture hallSupervised by Department of Physical Therapy Associate Professor Dr. Karen Yoshida, his research explores the student experience when disclosing a non-visible disability within a college or university setting. “What happens after a student discloses their disability? Do they experience fear? If so, what are these fears based on?” asks Fady. “Or, do these students experience a sense of triumph and relief when they expose their disability?”

student with prosthetic leg lifting weights with a personal trainer

A student with a prosthetic leg exercises with the guidance of a personal trainer in the Strength and Conditioning Centre at the Athletic Centre.

Non-visible disabilities are diverse, from psychiatric disorders such as bipolar, depression or anxiety, to chronic pain, endometriosis, rheumatoid arthritis and even prosthetics that can be covered by clothing. Fady’s work calls upon the theory of ‘passing’ to prevent others from knowing about a disability to avoid discrimination.

“Societal messages tell us that in order to succeed, it is best to hide disabilities; to pass as ‘normal’ whenever possible” asserts Fady. “The idea of ‘passing’ extends to many other aspects of identity, such as race, gender and sexuality. My research focuses on ‘passing’ as a trans-disciplinary issue.”

As a Teaching Assistant in the New College and Equity Studies Program at University of Toronto, Fady has the opportunity to share his disability insights with students. He also facilitates disability discussions with Dr. Yoshida’s first year MScPT students. His commitment to mentorship has earned Fady one of five TATP (Teaching Assistance Training Program) Teaching Excellence Awards from the Center for Teaching Support and Innovations. Selected out of 180 applicants, Fady has been recognized for his ability to
inspire and challenge his students.four students, 2 male, 2 female, sitting on front campus lawn

“I encourage my students to see disability as not just a medical issue, but also a socially and culturally produced phenomenon” says Fady. “My goal is to provide rehabilitation clinicians with a more complex understanding of disability, and encourage them to establish a trusting treatment space where patients are comfortable disclosing their identities and disabilities, visible or not.”