Schools, colleges and universities are obliged to help disabled people reach their potential through an inclusive approach to education.

More and more schools, colleges and universities are aiming to provide more effective inclusive education. Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, disability is not a specifically intellectual (or learning) issue. There are many disabled people that are perfectly capable of achieving in academic subjects but who may need specifically adapted systems or environments to do so, such as Braille format, hearing loops, accessible classrooms and so on. This doesn’t mean that they need to be segregated. All of this is possible within an inclusive environment.

Inclusive practice in education includes attitudes and methods that ensure all learners can access mainstream education while feeling welcomed, valued and able – and with the correct support to achieve their goals and potential.

It’s also important to realise that this point doesn’t just apply to children in their primary and secondary school years but also to college and university students, whether they’re young people or mature students.

Furthermore, their right to that inclusive provision is enshrined in law through the Equality Act (2010) which supports the rights of disabled students by giving greater legal protection against discrimination. The Act emphasises the legal duty on education providers to make reasonable adjustments so disabled people can take part in education.

Disability initiatives

It can sometimes be difficult to find information on specific disability initiatives in education since institutions have an outcome in sight whereby schemes, programmes or initiatives that help a particular protected characteristic (in this case disability) aren’t required – because they’ll have achieved a fully fair, diverse and inclusive offering. This is also why there are lists for the best universities for studying languages, humanities or sports, for example, but no credible lists are available for disability access. It’s largely impossible to ‘rate’ education providers by accessibility since, of course, the needs of one student are not necessarily going to affect the next. Other particulars such as pass rates can be measured quite accurately but accessibility is beyond metrics.

Nevertheless, the challenges of inclusive education aren’t simply ignored. Indeed, the Government also supports inclusive education, since education itself at all levels is transformative and inclusive education is linked with the notion of social mobility. An example of this is a report from 2017: ‘Inclusive teaching and learning in higher education’. The report encourages higher education providers to look at how they can support and offer the best environment for disabled students and how they can do so using reasonable adjustments.

For disabled college and university students there is also a definite responsibility to do what they can, personally, to assess the education provider, course and other particulars such as accommodation, for themselves, not least because each disabled person has a unique set of needs. It’s also important to point out that, to some extent, this is also the case for other students but it’s perhaps also fair to say that it’s more important for a disabled person that can’t be ‘flexible’ regarding their requirements.

Disability support

Every college and university will have a staff member tasked with looking after the needs of disabled students (they are usually called a disability officer). They will be able to answer your questions or start to work out how to accommodate your needs. It’s important to realise that you can ask for their help before and during the college or university application process as well as once you are enrolled.

NB: whatever you find out from them, positive or negative, remember that you have the right to challenge them to find a way to help you succeed on your course; even if you happen to be the first disabled student they’ve ever enrolled (which is doubtful).

Accessible campus

Your access requirements will vary depending on your course. For example, there may be science labs that you need to use as well as classrooms, lecture halls and the library. Furthermore, you need to look at whether the refectory and library are accessible and if your course requires you to undertake fieldwork off-campus.


You need to know that the accommodation is suitable in terms of layout and facilities, such as ramps, lifts and bathrooms etc. It’s not a good idea to attempt to compromise but rather to work with the disability officer as soon as possible to figure out a solution.

Accommodation off-campus is fine but consider how you’ll get from there to your lectures etc.

Open days

By far the best way to ascertain whether the facilities suit you is to attend an open day. Ideally, you’ll be able to meet personally with the disability officer and other disabled students to discuss how you’ll get on. In any case, don’t just take their word for it, ask to see the facilities for yourself. (Don’t forget the fun stuff. Is the Student’s union accessible?)

Learning support

Although the college or university experience is holistic, the core is still the day-to-day learning. There are any number of support mechanisms and methods available for disabled people that ensure they are not disadvantaged.

Study materials

Text books and other course resources can be made available in large print, Braille, and audiobooks.


Course materials and communication between lecturers and other students can be improved using software programs that convert text to speech or at a simpler level, change background colour or increase/change fonts.


Students that require a communication support worker to take notes for them or to translate lectures into British Sign Language can apply for Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) to cover the cost. This can take time to set up and it is recommended to apply six to nine months before the course commences.

Academic assessment

Grades rely on assessments. You should notify the disability officer if you need to be assessed differently. For instance, you may need more time in exams or have the option to sit them at home and so on.

Financial support – Disabled Student Allowances (DSAs)

DSA payments cover the cost of specific items of equipment, specific non-medical support worker costs, and so on. Apart from travel, there are maximum amounts for each allowance.

DSA does not cover the disability-related costs you’d have if you weren’t attending a course, or those costs that any student might have.


DSAs are awarded to eligible people with a vast variety of needs, from full-time to part-time students and for people with a range of disabilities, health conditions and learning difficulties.

For a full-time student studying in the academic year 2018 – 2019, the specialist equipment allowance is up to £5,529 for the whole course with a non-medical helper allowance of up to £21,987 a year, and a general allowance of up to £1,847 a year.

For a part-time student, the specialist equipment allowance is also up to £5,529 for the whole course with a non-medical helper allowance of up to £16,489 a year, and a general allowance of up to £1,385 a year. Eligible postgraduate students can receive up to £10,993 a year.

Further advice and information regarding your specific circumstances can be acquired from various disability charities and organisations or via the disability officer at many colleges and universities – or visit:

NB: If you are not eligible for DSA you may be able to apply to the college or university hardship fund.

Postgraduate education

Your education can go as far as you want it to. You can still use DSA for postgraduate study but for some courses there may be bursaries or scholarships (up to £25,000) available, though these are not exclusively awarded to disabled students. The award amount will vary depending on your subject and undergraduate degree class.


The Alliance for Inclusive Education

The Complete University Guide

Disability Rights UK