Students will have already completed their applications for university places. Although the subjects they’re interested in will have been front-of-mind, for some disabled students, there are other considerations.
Plenty of disabled students make a success of university courses but they often face other challenges that their able-bodied peers don’t. Here are our top tips for making sure you get the best from your university experience…
Which is the most accessible university?
Well, there isn’t one – and that’s a good thing. Of course, it would be absurd for there to be just a small number of universities kitted out with adaptations to suit disabled people. Instead, disabled students are able to choose to apply to any UK university – and (under the equality Act 2010) expect there to be reasonable adjustments made so that their disability does not adversely affect the quality of their education or experience. Having said that, applying to and attending university comes with responsibilities for any student to do things for themselves – but it’s likely to be more important, in terms of outcomes, for disabled students to fulfill these. It’s all about the preparation and finding the right support, during and after the application process.
Start before you start
Your applications for universities are already being considered but there’s still time to make investigations that will help you come to a final choice of where to study – grades permitting. Clearly, a little online research or speaking with anybody you know with specific experience will help but it’s well worth starting to think about your needs and contacting universities to sound them out about the support they’ll be able to provide for you.
The Disability Ofﬁcer, sometimes called a Disability Liaison Ofﬁcer (DLO), is a named contact person on the staff who can be approached by students, staff and disabled people who are visiting, perhaps with a view to taking up a course at a university. Whilst they will no doubt have collated a decent amount of knowledge through their work, each individual student will have a slightly different set of needs – and so the Disability Ofﬁcer may not always have an immediate solution – but they will have the tools to ﬁnd out more and create a workable plan. This can include thoughts on physical access, adaptations and equipment for learning and anything else that might affect you whilst on campus – including university accommodation. They are likely to suggest that you get an assessment to ascertain your needs.
Get an assessment
Most full-time and part-time students can apply online to Student Finance England. (Students from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will apply to different bodies, found via: https://www.gov.uk/apply-online-for-student-finance .) Once your eligibility for DSAs is conﬁrmed, you may be invited to contact an assessment centre to work out what help you need.
You can apply for Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSAs) to cover some of the extra costs you have due to a mental health problem, long term illness or any other disability.
Some disabled students are eligible for other ﬁnancial help on top of DSA and Disability Living Allowance (DLA) or Personal Independence Payment (PIP). You won’t need to repay DSAs.
Support for full-time students breaks down as follows:
- Specialist equipment allowance: up to £5,529 for the whole course.
- Non-medical helper allowance (such as note-takers or exam help): up to £21,987 per year.
- General allowance: £1,847 per year.
It is vital to apply for this funding as soon as possible to ensure that it is available to you as you start your course.
You can ﬁnd a DSA-QAG Certiﬁed Assessment Centre via: www.dsa-qag.org.uk
Several organisations can help you to ﬁnd out about your entitlements, among them:
Disability Rights UK
Exchange ideas and information
Although, the Disability Ofﬁcer will have met and worked with plenty of disabled students before you, they haven’t met ‘you’. Remember that you have unique experience and may have ideas on solutions or improvements that can be made to course content or to the campus environment. Don’t keep this to yourself; share it for the beneﬁt of others.
Some university Students’ Unions will have an integrated Disabled Students’ Union that will aim to look at issues as they relate speciﬁcally to disabled people.
It’s sensible to visit the campus (and accommodation) at least once before you start your course. There’s nothing like visiting a place to identify any potential difﬁculties – or hopefully, to put your mind at rest that everything’s OK.
The full student experience
Going to university isn’t just about education and learning – it’s about personal growth and development. The university’s responsibilities to you extend to all aspects of the student experience, including social and leisure opportunities.
Disabled Students Helpline
Disability Rights UK advisors can advise and support disabled people who are studying or wish to study at any level on full-time or part-time education or training courses – if the course is in England and they are over 16. (They can signpost towards information for other parts of the UK.)
Tel: 0330 995 0414
Opening hours: 11am-1pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays
Your applications for universities are already being considered but there’s still time to make investigations that will help you come to a ﬁnal choice of where to study.