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Disabled Student Allowance (DSA) and Disability Support in university

As you may know, I am going to university this year at the grand age of 39. If it wasn’t scary enough to be heading into education as Im hitting 40, doing it with a chronic illness is even more terrifying. A friend told me about Disability Student Allowance (DSA) and also about the Disability support team at universities. These things have made the world of difference and so I thought I would write about it today.

DSA

Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) is there to cover some of the extra costs you have because of a mental health problem, long term illness or any other disability. There are three parts to it; specialist equipment allowance, non-medical helper allowance and general allowance.

You can get help with the costs of:

  • specialist equipment, for example a computer if you need one because of your disability
  • non-medical helpers
  • extra travel because of your disability
  • other disability-related costs of studying

You may get a new computer if you do not already have one, or your current one does not meet your study needs. More information will be provided to you if you’re assessed as needing a new computer. You’ll need to pay the first £200, which is the minimum cost that any student is likely to incur when buying a computer. DSAs do not cover disability-related costs you’d have if you were not attending a course, or costs that any student might have.

Man and woman wearing Sheffield Hallam uni jumpers

How to apply

You can apply for Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSA) if you live in England and have a disability that affects your ability to study, such as a:

  • specific learning difficulty, for example dyslexia or ADHD
  • mental health condition, for example anxiety or depression
  • physical disability, for example if you have to use crutches, a wheelchair or a special keyboard
  • sensory disability, for example if you’re visually impaired, deaf or have a hearing impairment
  • long-term health condition, for example cancer, chronic heart disease or HIV

You must also:

  • be an undergraduate or postgraduate student (including Open University or distance learning)
  • qualify for student finance from Student Finance England
  • be studying on a course that lasts at least a year

You can find more information on the government website here.

You apply through Student Finance where you are led through the assessment and application process. You’ll need to prove your disability through a letter from your doctor or medical team and other medical reports. I used a letter from my consultant that he had made for my PIP application as well as a copy of my surgical history and letters showing my need for further tests and consultation.

UCAS

UCAS have a whole host of information about being a disabled student here. Read through and also contact the university that you are planning to attend to meet their disability support team. Once I had a confirmed place, I contacted the team and arranged a telephone meeting where we went through my illness and how it effects me. I applied for DSA through student finance and sent them all my evidence and once they confirmed I was eligible, I arranged a needs assessment with an assessment centre, there is a fee for this, but it is paid for from your DSA. Don’t book this until asked to by Student Finance England.

After the assessment, you’ll get a report listing equipment and other support you can get for your course. This was a two way conversation with a trained assessor. I was nervous about this, it was done over the phone, but the assessor was brilliant. He put me at ease and was knowledgable about disability. We talked through each section and how things may effect me and what they could put in place.

What you can get

If you need a non medical helper to get you through your course, they can arrange and pay for this. This wasn’t necessary for me. We talked about what equipment I currently had such as laptop and printer and I said I was happy with the ones I had, but they suggested equipment like a laptop tray for bed so if I was struggling, I could still work from my bedroom. Also a microphone to record lectures and a headset and headphones.

I also received software for my computer that may help in my studies, this included mind map software and a recording software that allows me to use recorded lectures or my own voice notes.

With the Disability Support team at the uni, we had another phone call where we created a Learning Contract. A Learning Contract is a document that:

  • recommends reasonable adjustments so that you are not disadvantaged by your condition
  • gives relevant staff the information they need to support you

So for example, my learning contract includes things like;

  • I may need to get up and leave the classroom without warning and may not return
  • Getting up and move around and stretch during classes
  • Needing longer library book loan times
  • Not lifting heavy items
  • Missing classes
  • Extensions

It basically gives me the confidence to know that my tutors have an understanding about my condition and can support me in any additional needs I may have. I also applied for a Parking Permit for the university and can get much reduced taxi fares if my health means I cannot drive or get public transport.

Crohns and Colitis UK

Crohns and Colitis UK have a great guide for students with Crohns or Colitis heading to uni, you can find it here. They say:

You may not see yourself as having a disability, but having Crohn’s or Colitis may mean you have needs other students do not, and that you might benefit from some of the support offered in this way. All Higher Education (HE) institutions should have a Student Disability Services department or team, (although the exact name may be slightly different). Details of how to contact them will be on the university or college website. The site may also give information about the types of provision available.

For a student with a chronic medical condition, such as Crohn’s or Colitis, ‘reasonable adjustments’ might include, for example, arrangements for extra time in exams or extensions to meet coursework deadlines when fatigue or other symptoms are a problem. It might also include arrangements to allow you to eat or take medication during teaching sessions.

Crohns and Colitis UK – Students with IBD

Daunting

I know all this can feel really daunting, and it is quite a lot of admin and takes time and head space. But if you are a student, you are entitled to support to make your experience as easy as possible. You shouldn’t be at a disadvantage because of your illness or disability.

For me, just knowing that my tutors will already have this knowledge about me and I won’t have to stand and explain myself constantly is such a relief. Of course I will keep an open line of communication with them throughout, but I want to be able to start my course without being frightened of being embarrassed by explaining myself in front of others.

Both the DSA assessor and the disabled support team at my university were so gentle, understanding and supportive. They made the whole experience so much easier and had so much knowledge. As the telephone assessment was around 2 hours long, the assessor kept asking me if I was ok or if I needed a break. It has all been dealt with with care and dignity.

This is just my personal experience with some great links thrown in, I hope it helps. If you are interested in finding out more, speak to your university and they will be able to help.

Peace and love

Sam xx