Course providers welcome almost 30,000 disabled students each year, meaning there’s already lots of on-campus support available. Most universities and colleges have disability coordinators and advisers. If you have an impairment, mental health condition, or learning difficulty, it’s a good idea to contact course providers to discuss what you might need as early as possible – even before sending your application.
Talk to course providers about your needs
Here are a few things to check with the disability coordinators and advisers at any course providers you're interested in applying to.
- Does the support available 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 get contact details on course provider websites or prospectuses, or on the DSA-QAG website.
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.
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.
- First, 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 – find an assessment centre near your course provider via the DSAs Quality Assurance Group website.
- 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 2018/19 has lots of handy details about support and finance.
Unsure if you're eligible for support? Use Ability Net’s free HE Support Checker to find out.
- 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, or 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.
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.
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 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.
See what you have to do if you need to arrange communication support
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). We recommend you start applying for it six to nine months before the course begins.