The latest figures show that the number of students with disabilities who start higher education each year has increased from around 26,000 in 2010 to nearly 40,000 in 2015.  So what if you want to join them?

Here’s some advice from UCAS to help you make the right choices about where to study.

Talk to the university about your needs

Each university or college has a dedicated disability officer with lots of experience helping students identify what they need, so talk to them to find out:

  1. Does the support available meet your needs?
  2. How do they support other students with a similar impairment?
  3. Can anyone help with applications for Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSAs)?
  4. Will you need to provide proof of your disability – if so, what is required?
  5. If you find it hard to talk to the course provider, can you nominate someone else on your behalf?

Accessing facilities

Check lecture halls, libraries and living accommodation are accessible.

  • Discuss your needs with the institution before you apply, and check what support is available.
  • Visit them, see the facilities and talk to staff; that way you can make sure you’ll have everything you need when you arrive.

“It is a huge change and takes a lot of getting used to, but I now love living away from home and my new-found independence.”

Catherine Alexander, studying BA (Hons) English at Lancaster University

Accessing your course

Choose the right course for you, as some courses might be more challenging than others.

  • Think about what you’ll have to do to get the qualification and what you need for your future career.
  • Consider structure and materials – e.g. some courses require lab work.
  • Don’t be put off by any assumptions about your impairment – most subjects and professions can be made accessible with the appropriate support, and the Equality Act gives education providers a duty to make reasonable adjustments to make sure disabled people aren’t at a disadvantage.

I think if you are deaf, you are much more in charge of yourself. You have to take the first steps and that can be pretty challenging because deafness no doubt causes a lack of confidence. But if you build the larger part of the bridge towards other students, work closely together with the people who want to help you, then it is worth it and I can absolutely recommend having the courage and taking the step towards university.”

Fred Suter, studying BA (Hons) Modern Languages at University of Southampton

Accessing study materials

See if the study materials are available in the formats you need.

  • Course providers might have large print, Braille, e-books, audiobooks and digital talking books.
  • Online reading software can be useful too – increasing font sizes, changing background colours and converting text to speech.

Assessment arrangements

Ask about alternative study and assessment methods.

  • Assessments are a regular part of life in higher education – if you need additional support or time, tell the disability coordinator as soon as you’ve registered for a course.
  • Universities and colleges can make other arrangements, so your work can be assessed in the same way as other students’ – solely on merit.

Assistance at university

Check what facilities there are for personal carers.

  • Whether you choose to live on or off campus, you may need to consider getting additional help and support in your daily life – e.g. for cooking, cleaning or transport.
  • Start making arrangements as far in advance as possible to make sure you have what you need.
  • In some cases, it can take a year or more to get everything in place.
  • Communication support workers, signers or note-takers can help you get the most out of your course. To cover the cost of this, you can apply for Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSAs).


Depending on your needs, you may be able to apply for Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSAs) to pay towards extra costs. This can take a long time to sort out, so start as soon as you can

You can find details on eligibility criteria and details regarding how to claim online at:


The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) operates the application process for British universities.

Services provided by UCAS include several online application portals, a number of search tools and free information and advice directed at various audiences, including students considering higher education, students with pending applications to higher education institutes as well as parents/carers.

  • UCAS has lots of information in a variety of formats on it’s website:
  • Call UCAS on: 0371 468 0 468.
  • If you have hearing difficulties, call the Text Relay service on: 18001 followed by: 0371 468 0 468 (or on: +44 151 494 1260 [text phone] from outside the UK – you’ll need to ask the operator to dial the relevant number.


Comprehensive information about applying for DSA funding.

Disability Rights UK

Disability Rights UK produce a variety of factsheets and run a Student helpline (available to potential students).

Disabled Students Helpline

Telephone: 0800 328 5050

(This line provides advice to disabled students who are studying in England.)

Opening hours: 11am-1pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays


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 also advise and support disabled students or parents and/or carers of disabled students or professionals working with disabled students.

Students studying in Wales or Scotland

Advisors can only support students who are studying in Wales or Scotland with general information on the Equality Act, welfare benefits and access to Higher Education. They recommend that disabled students who are studying in or wish to study in Scotland contact Lead Scotland (0131 228 9441) for more specialised information and advice about education and training in Scotland.

Students’ Union

The National Union of Students (NUS) is the organisation that provides a voice to its student members. They represent around 600 separate students’ unions in colleges and universities, campaigning for the rights of students and how education is shaped and delivered.

With around 95% of all further and higher education unions in the UK, the NUS have a relatively strong influence – backed by an estimated seven million individual students.  Of course, within that number is covered all strands of diversity as they appear within the student body – including disabled students.


Although there isn’t a ‘Disabled Students Union’ there is a ‘Disabled Students’ campaign’. Just as broadly speaking the NUS fights discrimination, isolation and injustice through practical information and national action, the Disabled Student’s campaign exists to represent, extend and defend the rights of disabled students. They are an autonomous campaign, which means that whilst they are led by disabled students in their governance and decision-making processes (organisation) they are not strictly a ‘union’ in their own right.

Some people will, of course, say that there should be a ‘Disabled National Union of Students’ although this would then mean that there would need to be a host of other niche unions incorporating the interests of smaller groups. It’s clear for the moment, that the NUS regards itself as one student body and is happy to maintain the leverage that only such a large group could apply. (Within that context the Disabled Students’ campaign works throughout the year on key areas to positively impact disabled students’ lives and towards the freedom from oppression and discrimination of disabled people. This is done through campaigns, activism, research, development and training, that disabled students inform and participate in.)