Support for disabled students in higher education generally comes from two different sources. One is the university or college itself, and the other is through something called the Disabled Students Allowances.
The Disabled Students Allowances (or DSA for short) provide extra help for students who have a disability, a mental health condition such as anxiety or depression, a specific learning difficulty, like dyslexia, dyspraxia or ADHD, or long-term health conditions like diabetes, epilepsy, RSI and hypermobility.
You are eligible for a DSA if you meet all the following criteria
1. You can provide evidence of a disability, a long term health condition, a sensory impairment, a mental health condition, or a specific learning difficulty which affects your ability to study.
2. You are taking a full-time or part-time undergraduate or postgraduate course in the UK (including Open University and distance learning courses) that lasts at least one year.
3. You normally live in the UK.
4. You qualify for student finance (though you do not actually have to receive it).
Around about 6% of all students in higher education (about 80,000 students) get support through the Disabled Students’ Allowances, though it is estimated that up to 13% of students are eligible
On average, each student receives support worth £1,750 through the Disabled Students’ Allowances
In 2019, Government research found that nearly 40% of students report they could not have completed their course without receiving support from the Disabled Students’ Allowances.
Disabled Students’ Allowances do not need to be paid back, are not means tested and do not affect the general student finance application or eligibility for any other funding sources
Good question – if your university or college supports its students, why do you also need funding for individual support?
The DSA crucially provides two things worth thinking about. Firstly, it provides is a package of support which is individually tailored to your specific requirements, and secondly, it funds support that isn’t available through the university.
So, for example, all students at university may get access to a few sessions of study skills advice or counselling. Students with DSA funding though can receive specialist study skills and mentoring support on a weekly basis throughout their course.
The funding is actually made up of four different components that fund different types of support – equipment, non-medical helper, general and travel. Before listing what may be available through each of these, there are three fundamental principles to understand when thinking about what you might get:
1) The DSA funds any additional study costs that a student incurs as a direct result of studying as a disabled student.
So, for example, a student may need to travel to hospital appointments when at university, meaning that they have additional travel costs to cover. However, because this cost is not directly related to their studying, it would not be covered by the DSA. Alternatively, a student has a long-term back injury which means that they require specialist ergonomic seating when studying. As the cost of a specialist chair is due to the back injury and enables the student to study more effectively, this would be covered by the DSA.
2) The DSA provides the funding to cover the cost of the support needed, rather an amount of money to be used as needed.
In the examples above, if these situations related to the same student, they would not be permitted to use the money that was allocated to purchase an ergonomic chair and use this to pay for the travel to the hospital appointments.
So, with these guidelines in mind, here is an overview of what the DSA can fund:
|Equipment||Money (about £150) towards the cost of a computer if you don’t already have one and if you are recommended any of the specialist programs marked with a * in the software section below|
|Recording equipment (usually a microphone for your phone/laptop and specialist software but can also be a digital reorder)|
|Radio aid systems|
|Ergonomic equipment (e.g. ergonomic chair, specialist keyboard and mouse, footrest, height adjustable desk, laptop/monitor stand)|
|Software||Text-to-speech software* (e.g. ClaroRead or Texthelp Read&Write)|
|Voice recognition software* (Dragon Professional Individual)|
|Audio recording software (e.g. Sonocent Audio Notetaker)|
|Mind mapping software (e.g. MindView or Inspiration)|
|Spelling/grammar software (e.g. Global Autocorrect, Grammarly or Medincle)|
|Screen reading and/or magnification software* (e.g. JAWS, Supernova or ZoomText)|
|Non-medical helpers||Specialist one-to-one study skills support (for students with specific learning difficulties, including ADHD, and/or Autism spectrum disorder)|
|Specialist one-to-one mentoring support (for students with mental health condition, ADHD, and/or Autism spectrum disorder)|
|Notetaking support (for students who are blind/visually impaired, or Deaf/hard of hearing)|
|Mobility training/sighted guide support (for students who are blind/visually impaired)|
|Assistive technology training|
|General||Money toward the cost of printing and photocopying|
|Travel||The additional cost of using a taxi to travel to university|
|A mileage allowance for students who drive to university|
Essentially, anything that isn’t listed above falls outside the remit of the DSA, but to clarify, here is a list of things that sometimes students will think they may get funding towards but can’t:
There are three steps to the process. If this sounds like it could be a bit of a hassle, it really isn’t and we can help as much as you need. Also, it’s worth mentioning that part of the reason why you need to go through the process is that you are in charge of your support rather than someone deciding what is best for you
Step 1: Apply to your funding body (usually Student Finance England) for the funding. This involves completing an application form and sending it with evidence of your specific learning difficulty, mental health condition, health condition or physical impairment.
Step 2: Once your funding body has approved your application, you need to attend a needs assessment. This is where you get to find out about all of the different options available through the funding, see some of the software and equipment, and most importantly, you get to say what you need from the funding.
Step 3: The recommendations made following the needs assessment then get reviewed by your funding body before being approved. You will then be informed of their decision (and usually the recommendations will be.
You can apply at any point on your course, or from about February of the year that you have applied to start university in. How you apply depends of who is funding your course and there are also different forms to complete depending on whether you receive core student finance funding. The following links take you to the relevant funding body information:
Self-funded students need to apply through the funding body of the country that they are resident in, while students funded by a Research Council need to apply through their university’s Disability Service.
There really isn’t one….
The funding pays for the support rather than going directly to you and doesn’t have to be paid back. It isn’t means tested, there is no age limit on applying and you can apply as an undergraduate or postgraduate student. It doesn’t affect your general student finance application or your eligibility for any other funding sources. The process of applying has a couple of steps to go through but isn’t too bureaucratic and it isn’t difficult to get approved for the support you need.
Some students may have heard that you can get a free laptop through the DSA and others may have heard that this has been scrapped. The truth is something between the two – if you are recommended certain pieces of software and do not have a suitable computer for running these programs, the DSA will provide you with funding towards the cost of a computer.
If you’re funded by Student Finance England or a Research Council, you will receive a contribution toward the cost of a computer. The amount you get is based on the overall cost of a the computer needed to run the software that you have been recommended, which currently works out at around £350 – £400. You then have to pay £200 toward this and the DSA funds the rest, so between £150 and £200. So, for a £200 contribution you can get a Windows laptop which should be good enough to run the software you are getting. However, these are basic laptops and it may be worth paying a little extra to upgrade to something a little better.
For example; a student gets recommended ClaroRead (text-to-speech software) to help with reading. They have an old (over five years) laptop which isn’t working reliably and so is eligible for some money through the DSA to replace it. The student would like a MacBook costing about £850, and so would have to pay about £650 themselves and claim the remainder back through the DSA.
For students funded by Student Finance Wales or the Student Awards Agency for Scotland, the full cost of a laptop can be funded through the DSA. However, this can’t be used to pay for any laptop that the student wants, it’s for a standard laptop available through the funding which costs about £400. Students still have the option to pay extra to choose something different, but can get a basic laptop without having to pay anything themselves.
Whoever the funding body, the computes that you get either for the £200 contribution (SFE) or paid for completely (SFW and SAAS) fall into the category of ‘you get what you pay for’. Although technically they meet the specification needed to run any of the software that will have been recommended, many students have provided feedback that they are not very good laptops. There is a caveat to this – if you look after it, are careful about what is installed on to it, and do some basic maintenance now and again, the laptops should be sufficient for most students’ needs. However, if you want a better computer, and can afford it, use the option to pay more to do so. There is also the flexibility within the system to allow you to purchase a computer from any supplier you choose, so it is well worth considering how you may get something that you are happy with for the duration of your course