Supporting disabled students (including those with long-term illnesses and learning differences)

Students with physical or mental health conditions or learning disabilities and differences will find a variety of support available in higher education. However, advance research and preparation can make all the difference - we've worked with experts, such as the National Association of Disability Practitioners (NADP) to outline some of the ways in which you can help your students make a successful transition.

Pre-application and research phase

  • Where possible, identify disabled students (including those with long-term illnesses and learning differences) – the SEN department or pastoral team in your school or college may be able to help. Ensure they know there is support available at university or college, and encourage them throughout to speak to the disability team/adviser at the university or college about their support needs.  
  • Encourage students to talk to you about their needs. If they don’t feel comfortable doing so, make sure the pastoral or SEN team (whoever the student prefers to speak to) are equipped to talk about their requirements in HE. 
  • Signpost information and advice - there’s lots of advice on and on the Disability Rights UK website to get them started. 
  • Our publication, Starting the conversation: UCAS report on student mental health offers a useful background for advisers on the challenges around student disclosure. 
  • Ensure you and your students know what Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSAs) are, how to apply for them, and what medical evidence is needed – ‘DSA find your way’ from Diversity and Ability is a great place to find out everything you need to know. And this guidance from UMHAN (the University Mental Health Advisers Network) explains what sort of support students can receive. 
  • If students plan to attend open days (in person or online), suggest they visit student services to discuss whether their support needs can be met, or to book a separate appointment to discuss what is available. Check our guide to preparing for open days and visits for disabled students.  
  • Remind students to check if courses have work placements and consider what support they might need. 
  • If a student currently accesses health or social care, encourage them to explore the services to which they may be transitioned, as this can vary between different areas. Highlight that the transition from child to adult mental health care can be time consuming, particularly when this includes change in geographical location, so getting started with this early is a good idea. Visit the Mind website for more information about this process and young people’s rights.  
  • Consider other personal circumstances that may cause the student additional challenges, and ensure they know how to get the right support for their needs – the other sections in this guide may help, as will UMHAN’s guide to choosing the right place for you.
  • Students with accessibility requirements can use the AccessAble website to find detailed access guides for university and college campuses around the UK, as well as other facilities in the local area.

When they’re applying

  • Before they make their final choices, encourage students to contact the support services team at their chosen universities or colleges to check they can accommodate their support needs. Read our guide to speaking to support services on
  • Encourage students to share their condition or impairment on their UCAS application, making sure they know this information is not used to make an admissions decision, but to start the process of putting support in place for their arrival. More information about what happens to this information after a student sends their application can be found on the disabled students page. Clarify that they do not have to use the support if they don’t want to – they are in control – but it is good to have it in place ready just in case their circumstances change.  
  • The student must make the final decision about what to share on their application, but if they are hesitant direct them to this guide from Disability Rights UK to help them make up their mind.  
  • With the student’s permission, use the reference to explain any mitigating circumstances or challenges they’ve faced, to help the university or college consider their achievements in context. 
  • Ensure that students use the specific question(s) on the application to share a mental health condition. If the student chooses to include anything elsewhere in the application (e.g. personal statement or reference), this will not be seen by the student support team. 
  • If a student does not want to share a condition or impairment in the application, remind them they can tell the university or college directly at any point – but it is best to do this as early as possible or they may not be able to access the full range of support. 
  • Students applying for courses with ‘fitness to practise’ requirements (e.g. medicine) may worry that an impairment or condition will be a barrier – clarify that managing a condition, including asking for support, is viewed favourably and they are protected by the Equality Act. More information about ‘fitness to practise’ can be found on the Scope website
  • Check what evidence is required for the student’s DSA application and that they can access what they need. 
  • Encourage students to apply for a Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) as early as possible alongside their student finance application – even if they are not sure they will be accepted. Again, having this in place in case their circumstances change is a reassuring safety net – and they do not have to use it. 
  • Direct students to the FAQ page if they are uncertain about sharing an impairment or condition.
  • Students who need extra processing time may benefit from mock interviews, guidance for speaking to the disability adviser or student support team, and being prepared for Clearing in case they do not get into their first choice.


  • Prompt them to make enquiries about accommodation if they have particular requirements (e.g. accessibility). 
  • Encourage students to visit the ‘My Study My Way’ platform from Ability Net to start thinking about how they can get the most out of university or college. 
  • Make sure they’re fully prepared to attend interviews, admissions tests, and auditions – and contact the university or college in advance if they require any adjustments (e.g. disabled parking, extra time, BSL interpreters, materials in different formats). 
  • Suggest they research alternative choices that can meet their support requirements in case they need to use Clearing or their firm choice is unable to make the required adjustments. 
  • Check if the university or college holds summer schools or orientation events – some are specifically designed for those with autistic spectrum conditions or anxiety. 
  • Universities and colleges differ in the way they organise support and it is a good idea for the student to follow up with them directly even if they shared a condition or impairment in the UCAS application. 

During Confirmation and Clearing

  • Students who require significant support or adjustments should speak to the university or college directly before making any decision if they are using Clearing to find a new place. 

Preparing for the transition to university or college

  • Contact the student support team at the university or college to discuss support needs ahead of moving (where appropriate). 
  • Check they have spoken to their doctor or other health practitioner about ongoing care and support if they are moving away from the area, and that a care package is organised through social services, if required.  
  • Check they know who to contact at the university or college if they have any questions or problems when they arrive. 

Further support and resources