University Tips Blog
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A headshot image of the author, Jon Cheek

by Jon Cheek


posted on 1 Sep '23

Support for students with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities

Text provided by Natalie Freislich-Mills for the UniTasterDays Students' Guide to University, when in-post as the Head of Make Happen (Uni Connect Progrogramme)

Although special educational needs and disabilities is a term used widely in schools and colleges, at higher education this is usually replaced with the term disabilities. Some students reading this may not identify with the term disabled; however, it is crucial that you are aware of your rights and the support available to you during your studies. I will provide a guide to this here.

The first step for you is to declare your disability on your UCAS application. Universities use this to begin conversations with you early, to ensure support is in place from the start. Declaring your disability will not affect your offers, universities have a legal obligation to ensure they are not discriminating against students during admission and throughout your education (Equality Act 2010). In addition, any student who declares a disability is legally entitled to reasonable adjustments. Universities want you to succeed, and will be keen to provide the information and support you need.

Disabled Students’ Allowance

Disabled students can apply for specific funding in the form of the Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA). The DSA helps to cover additional costs incurred whilst accessing your course and is usually applied for through the relevant nation’s body for student finance. It is a non-repayable grant and is dependent on your individual needs. If you are yet to receive an official diagnosis, it is not too late. Some universities offer full or partial financial support for assessments once enrolled.

The types of support on offer for students will vary depending on the university, so it is essential that you research carefully.

Generally, the focus is on developing independent learning skills, so often support is less than in schools and colleges. Disability support is usually provided by student services teams, so be sure to get in touch or visit their page within the university website to find out what is available.

Some examples of what may be on offer for you include:

• Specialists or experts in specific disabilities
• Supported induction programmes
• DSA application support
• Exam or timetabling adjustments
• Flexible teaching methods
• Study skills support and tutoring
• Mentoring
• Extended library loans
• Handouts in alternative formats
• British Sign Language interpreters
• Exam adjustments, including readers and scribes
• Specialist accommodation, including for carers
• Scholarships, grants and bursaries (in addition to DSA).

How to find out more

University open days allow students to meet staff as well as existing students to find out what support is available. Student unions often have a disability officer who will represent disabled students within university decision making and ensure your interests are represented as well.

Once you begin your course, some universities will proactively keep in touch, while others will expect students to take the initiative. It is also important to consider how the university supports you with your career transition, so make sure you speak to the career teams as well.

In addition to the above, your local Uni Connect hub may be able to support you too. Uni Connect provides impartial information and guidance on college and university and is funded by the Office for Students. Speak to your teacher or careers adviser, or visit the Uni Connect website to find contact details for your local hub.

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