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 (or DSA for short), which is funding provided by the government to cover the costs of any support you may need.
If you know all this and just want to book your DSA needs assessment with us, please click here:
Alternatively, the following article provides all the information that you may need about what the DSA is, what it can fund and how to apply.
DSA - Key Facts:
#1 DSA does not need to be paid back and is not means tested
#2 DSA is available to pay for support for students with mental health conditions, specific learning difficulties, long-term illnesses, visual and hearing impairments, Autism spectrum disorder and students with physical impairments.
#3 Around about 6% of all students in higher education (about 80,000 students) get support through the DSA
Why should you apply for DSA?
Good question – if the university is ensuring it is making any reasonable adjustments that disabled students need, do you also need funding for individual support?
Perhaps not, but the DSA can crucially provide 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.
Here’s a breakdown of how some of the support available through the university compares to options provided through the DSA:
|The University’s study advice service, which usually provides general one-to-one study advice, online resources and sometimes specific seminars on study skills such as referencing or essay writing.||Specialist one-to-one study skills support for students with specific learning difficulties for the duration of their course (if needed)|
|The University's Counselling Service which usually offers short-term counselling and mental health support,||Specialist one-to-one mentoring support for students with mental health conditions for the duration of their course (if needed)|
|Access to some specialist software through library computers and/or a dedicated assistive technology centre||A more comprehensive range of specialist software and equipment, plus funding toward the cost of a computer|
What’s the catch?
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.
What can I get?
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|
What can’t I get?
- Personal care costs (see our useful links page at the back)
- Costs of travel to and from medical appointments (including counselling/therapy sessions)
- Food or drink, even if used to help manage a health condition
- Medication or treatment costs (including private counselling/therapy and prescription charges)
- Diagnostic costs, such as the cost of having an assessment of a specific learning difficulty / ADHD / Autism spectrum disorder
- Books or internet costs (these were eligible for DSA funding many years ago, but no longer)
- Someone to take notes in lectures for you (unless you are a student who is blind/visually impaired, or Deaf/hard of hearing)
- Someone to help you in the library or in labs or to help you get around campus, or to provide proofreading support.
Ok, sounds interesting – what’s next?
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 accepted) and given the information you need to arrange the support, such as who to order equipment from and who to contact to arrange one-to-one support.
What about funding for a computer, how does that work?
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 £400. You then have to pay £200 toward this and the DSA funds the rest, so £200. So, for a £200 contribution you can get a basic Windows laptop which will 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.
How to apply
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:
- Student Finance England
- Student Finance Wales
- Student Finance Ireland
- Student Awards Agency for Scotland
- NHS Bursaries (via the Student Services Bursary Online Support System (BOSS))
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.