Disabled at Uni: 2. Disabled Students’ Allowance

Disabled Students' Allowance Quality Assurance logo

Last week in this series on applying to study as a disabled person, I wrote on the application process and turning disability to your advantage, and this week I’m writing about Disabled Students Allowance. They fund select equipment and support grants.

Disabled Students’ Allowance (or DSA) provides funding for support and equipment for disabled students in Higher Education. This includes help with the cost of a laptop and software, but also mentoring, study skills, and more. It’s an incredible opportunity, but it’s also a very slow process, and one it’s important to start as early as possible.

This meant that in June I got in touch with DSA to arrange a new assessment. Usually if you’ve had support in place in your undergraduate, this rolls over, but I’d been out of study for 3 years and my condition had progressed a lot, so I tried to persuade them to fund a new assessment. This took a lot of back and forth, but was eventually agreed, and I was able to book my assessment.

The reason I wanted a new assessment was partly because I wanted a full face-to-face discussion with my assessor – I wanted to make sure he got an overview of my current scenario and doing that over the telephone is difficult. Beyond that, I also wanted to be able to persuade them that while I can lift(ish) 1kg, I struggle with 1.5kg – and these fine details are easier to navigate over assessment.

Preparing for your assessment

Before I went to my assessment I did a lot of preparation. I made a list of all the support I’d received during my undergraduate degree, why I received it, what I got from it, and why I would need it again. I also went through a mental representation of the Uni year and looked at what support I needed as a result of that. The questions I asked myself and areas I made notes on to prepare for the DSA assessment are at the end of this blog. The important thing is to know what you want and need before you go into the assessment – if you know what you want out of it, you’ll have a far easier time of it than if you don’t.

At the assessment

Don’t be afraid to make it clear that you have some thoughts on what you want and need – but remember that your assessor is also an expert. The DSA assessors are not employed by the Student Loans Company, they’re independent contractors. They listen to your needs and write a report based on those, which they send to Student Finance England. This justifies what you need and why, SFE can then decide whether or not to fund the things you’ve been recommended.

If you think you might have forgotten to mention something, arrange for your centre to send you the report for your approval before they send it to SFE. You can also ask for the email address of your assessor, who you can then contact if there’s something you need that you forgot to mention, or was missing from your report.

If you have any complicated positioning needs, it’s worth requesting a separate ergonomic assessment. They can help you get set up with an ideal study environment at home and may know of equipment you didn’t. At my ergonomics assessment, I was recommended supports to hold the weight of my forearms while I typed – which were an incredible piece of equipment I would never have thought of

After the assessment

There are a series of time-lengths within which your assessment centre and SFE are expected to respond. Take note of these – and the minute something is overdue, chase it. Even if you started your DSA process on time, in June or July (as I did), it can still take a very long time, with equipment coming right up to the line in terms of when you start your course. Mine has now started, for example, and I still haven’t heard back about the ergonomic equipment. I know that had I been more on top of chasing SFE the moment they were late in contacting me I would have had things done more quickly – instead my course has long since started and I still don’t have all the equipment sorted,

Once your assessment is over, this doesn’t mean your relationship with that centre is also over. Your assessor is who you would need to contact if something changed with your needs and the support you require. When I did my undergraduate, I was back to the centre almost every year getting updates to my needs assessment put in place.

In the next part, I will discuss what you need to set up before your course begins, to have an easy ride of it at University.

The things I prepared for my assessment


  • Laptop
    • Under 1kg
    • Resilient or insured
    • Light keyboard
  • Software
    • Dictation (Dragon)
    • Mind-mapping (Freemind)
    • Screen reader / reading back (ClaroRead)
    • Microsoft Office
    • Lecture/seminar recording (Sonocent Audio Notetaker)
  • Laptop bag
  • Microphone for lecture/seminar recording

Personal support
DSA refuse to fund anyone to support you with personal care – so they won’t fund someone to empty my catheter bag, but they will fund other things like mentoring. Any personal care support you need will have to be arranged through social services or continuing healthcare

  • Mentor to help me with balancing illness and study
  • Study skills tutoring
  • Support using the library

Study at home equipment

  • Ergonomic equipment
  • Upright mouse
  • Arm supports that clamp to the desk
  • Easy to tap keyboard
  • Height adjustable desk
  • Table to go over bed
  • Second monitor with monitor arm
  • Laptop bed desk
  • Support for holding books for me
  • Printer
  • Scanner

The Uni year

  • Reaching and using campus
    • How do I get to campus?
    • How do I find my buildings?
    • How do I get into my buildings?
    • How do I open their doors
    • How do I get around my buildings?
    • How do I go to the toilet?
    • What support do I need to use the toilet?
    • What equipment do I need to use the toilet (e.g. hoist)?
  • Library
    • How do I find it?
    • How do I access it?
    • What do I need to study (g. height adjustable desk, accessible plug sockets, dictation software, somewhere quiet to dictate, wheelchair charging point, help getting my laptop out and set up)?
    • What if I want a book? What support do I need to find and get a book?
    • What if I can’t get to the library – how do I borrow books?
    • How long do I need books for?
  • Class
    • How will I discuss my needs with the professors? What do they need to know?
    • What information do I need in advance?
    • How do I take notes?
    • How do I organise my notes and reading?
    • How do I prepare my contributions?
    • What do I do if I’m going to miss class?
    • How do I discuss my needs with the tutor?
  • Essay submissions
    • What extra support do I need to prepare for an essay?
    • How will I get the books I need?
    • How will I get the articles I need?
    • How will I type it?
    • How will I proof-read it?
    • What will I struggle with (e.g. referencing)?
    • How long will I need?
    • What will I do if I fall ill and can’t submit on time?
    • How will I hand them in if I can’t get to campus?
    • Will I need longer than other students?
  • Exams
    • How will I write my exams?
    • What special software will I need?
    • What special equipment will I need?
    • Will I need longer than other students?
    • Will I be able to do them in the same room as other students?
    • What will I do if I’m ill on the day of the exam?
  • Emotional and study skills
    • Do I have any mental health issues I might benefit from support with?
    • How will my learning difficulties affect my study?

 If you have any thoughts, questions or comments, leave a comment here, email me on hale.jamie.r@gmail.com, or tweet me @jamierhale

The ‘disabled at uni’ series

  1. Applying to study
  2. Disabled Students’ Allowance
  3. Before your course begins (and who’s there to help)
  4. Accommodation, social care, and health care
  5. Starting to study

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