Course providers welcome almost 30,000 students with individual needs each year, meaning there’s already lots of on-campus support available. To help you get the most from your studies, most universities and colleges have disability coordinators and advisers, and many also have mental health advisers. If you have an impairment, mental health concern, long-term illness, or learning difficulty, it’s a good idea to contact course providers to discuss any support you might need as early as possible – even before sending your application.
When you make your application, don’t forget to tick the box to tell the university about any impairment or condition. They can then arrange any support to help you make a smooth transition to university and succeed in your ongoing studies. This information will be treated in confidence, and will not be used to make a decision on your application.
Talk to course providers about your needs
Here are a few things to check with the support team at any course providers you're interested in applying to:
- Does the support available at that provider meet your individual needs?
- How does the course provider currently support other students with a similar impairment?
- Can anyone help with applications for Disabled Students' Allowances (DSAs)?
- Will you need to provide proof of your impairment – if so, what is required?
- If you find it hard to talk to the course provider, can you nominate someone else on your behalf?
You can find contact details for disability advisers on course provider websites or prospectuses.
Disability Rights UK publish a comprehensive guide to applying to higher education, and getting support – Read Into Higher Education
Read the National Association of Disability Practitioners (NADP) blog, which explains who to contact at your university or college, and how a disability adviser can support you through your journey to uni.
If you would like more details about the support available to support mental health and wellbeing, the University Mental Health Advisers Network (UMHAN) has some useful information, and an overview of how a mental health adviser can help.
Funding for disabled students
You may be entitled to Disabled Students Allowances (DSAs) for physical or mental impairments, long-term or mental health conditions, or specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia. This funding covers the cost of the support you need – e.g. specialist equipment and nonmedical helpers – like a note-taker or reader. You won’t automatically get a DSA – you'll need to prove you’re eligible.
- You’ll need either a letter from your doctor or consultant confirming your impairment or health condition, or a diagnostic assessment of your learning difficulty from a psychologist or specialist teacher.
- Then you apply for DSA through your regional funding organisation – Student Finance England, Student Finance Northern Ireland, Student Awards Agency for Scotland, or Student Finance Wales. It can take up to three months to arrange, so apply early.
- If you’re eligible you’ll then have an assessment to work out what you need. You can use your postcode to find your nearest assessment centre.
- Once everything’s arranged, the money will be paid directly to your service/equipment providers, or to your bank account.
- DSAs can take up to three months to arrange, so make sure you apply for one as early as possible.
The Disability Rights factsheet funding higher education for disabled students has lots of handy details about support and finance.
- Discuss your needs with the course provider before you apply, and check what support is available.
- It's a good idea to visit them too – seeing the facilities for yourself and talking 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.
Accessing your course
- Think about the learning objectives, what you'll have to do to get the qualification, and what professional requirements you need for your future career.
- Consider structure and materials too – for example, some courses require lab work, and art degrees call for extensive visual analysis of paintings.
- Don't be put off by any assumptions about your impairment though – most subjects and professions can be made accessible with the appropriate support, and the Equality Act gives employers 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.
Ability Net helps disabled people use technology, and offers free advice and resources — read more about them, and the help they could give you.
In professions where you are responsible for the health and safety of other people, such as medicine or nursing, it is necessary that you meet ‘fitness to practise’ regulations. This means practitioners must demonstrate the skills and knowledge to carry out their duties safely and effectively. This is usually assessed through a questionnaire about your health, and an occupational health assessment is sometimes required.
If you have a disability, mental health condition, learning difference, or illness, this is unlikely to affect your 'fitness to practise'. Universities and colleges – as well as employers – have a duty to make all reasonable adjustments to support disabled students and employees under the Equality Act 2010.
If you would like to know more about the 'fitness to practise' guidance, take a look at the guidance from your professional course (e.g. social work, teaching, medicine, nursing) – contact the course provider directly if you need help with this. The General Medical Council (GMC) provides clear guidance on their website, along with information for disabled students, and students with mental health conditions.
Accessing study materials
- 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.
- 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.
- Course providers can make other arrangements, ensuring your work can be assessed in the same way as other students – solely on merit.
- For example, a student with a physical impairment might be able to take their exams at home.
Support with transition
A new start can make you feel excited and nervous – there’s a lot to think about.
Some universities and colleges offer summer schools and courses to help you manage this transition, particularly if you are finding it challenging. For example, some summer schools are specifically designed to help students with autistic spectrum conditions settle in.
It’s good to be prepared and know what to expect, so the Know Before You Go guide from Student Minds is a great resource to help you get ready for the change. You might also find their Transitions Guide useful to help you navigate university life.
Assistance at your course provider
- 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 planning 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.
See what you have to do if you need to arrange communication support
Communication support workers, reading software, 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). We recommend you start applying for it six to nine months before the course begins.