Students with disabilities: advice on getting support at university

Starting at university is a busy and exciting time. It can also be daunting, as you get your head around meeting new people, dealing with demanding workloads and even just finding your way around campus. 

But if you’re a student with a disability it can be even more challenging.

Here, Randstad Student Support, an organisation that provides disability support for students in further and higher education, writes a guest blog for us on practical advice for students with disabilities. 

Accessing the student union, hearing a lecture or reading course handouts are simple needs most students take for granted. But without the right measures in place students with disabilities can be – and in many cases, are being – denied these basic requirements.

This is where the key role of the support worker comes in. As a conduit between universities and students with disabilities, support workers are integral in helping the student overcome these everyday challenges.

From dyslexia tuition and note-taking to mobility support, mental health mentoring and study skills tuition, support workers offer a holistic support to students throughout their education.

But how can students find information on whether they are eligible for this support? And what impact does this support have on the lives of students themselves? Here, we outline the process you should follow to get the help you’re entitled to.

Make your university aware

Arranging appropriate support at university depends first of all on you disclosing your disability to the disability service at the university. This could be done before you start uni (this is recommended as support can be put in place sooner) or once you arrive.

The disability service may well sit under the student and wellbeing service, student services or as a standalone department, although it differs from institution to institution. Your personal tutor or a representative of your student union should be able to point you in the right direction. 

Your university will be aware of the sensitive nature of your disclosure and will maintain absolute discretion and confidentiality at all times.

Whenever a university is made aware of a student’s disability, they will make all reasonable adjustments as they are legally obliged to under the Equality Act 2010. 

Universities employ specially trained disability advisors who can provide advice and guidance on support services that are available during your time at university. They will liaise with academic and administrative staff to identify appropriate adjustments.

Applying for support

The advisors can also provide you with assistance in applying for Disabled Students Allowance (DSA). The DSA is a financial provision to enable you to receive specialist help from a non-medical helper (NMH), specialist equipment that may be required as well as funding for other support such as help with travel to university.

This specialist support will of course vary depending upon the nature of your disability but could include any of the following: 

  • Note taker – to take notes in lectures/seminars
  • Library assistants – to help with access to material in the library
  • Dyslexia tuition – to help with organisational and study strategies
  • Mentors – to assist with the transition into university life and any issues with student’s confidence.
  • Interpreting support – to support students with hearing impairments

In order to be eligible to apply for DSA, a student must provide the disability advisor with evidence of their disability. Your disability advisor will be able to advise you as to the type of evidence that is acceptable. They will also assist you in completing the application forms for the additional finance that will fund your NMH support.

Assessing whether you have a specific learning difficulty (SpLD)

If you suspect you have a specific learning difficulty (SpLD) such as dyslexia, dyscalculia or dyspraxia, the advisor will book the you an appointment with the educational psychologist. Once this evidence is presented to your advisor, they will arrange an appointment with a needs assessor at the local assessment centre. Some universities have their own assessment centre on site or alternatively will signpost you to the nearest one locally.

Some universities at this stage will put in place interim support, as the assessment process can take some time depending on when you disclose your disability. Your disability advisor will inform you whether this is available.

The assessment centre will work with you to make arrangements for providing your individual needs assessment report (NAR). You will attend an appointment with a needs assessor who will discuss your needs based on the evidence provided and make recommendations of the way you can be supported.

Once this assessment has taken place, it will be sent to Student Finance England (which is a part of the Student Loans Company) or your appropriate funding body if you are a student from Wales, Scotland or Ireland. The NHS will also fund support for students studying NHS-sponsored degrees. Your funding body will consider this report together with your application and medical evidence and make an appropriate award of financial support to fund the support required.

Once this award is in place, you should notify your advisor and they will arrange for support to be put in place. 

Ensuring you get the support which suits you

As mentioned, there are different types of support available and it is important to get the support which suits you. 

For example, one-to-one support is usually one hour per week at mutually convenient times arranged between you and your tutor or mentor. Note-taking support, however, will take place in every timetabled session and it is your responsibility to liaise with your note taker regarding your timetable.

Liam Maxwell, a third year film, TV and radio studies student at Staffordshire University found student support a huge help:

“Before I had a student support worker, life was a lot harder. I couldn’t take notes and I couldn’t participate in the lectures as well. When I found out that support workers were available I was relieved because I thought it would make my life generally easier. I could depend on them and rely on them for help, guidance and support. Having someone by your side on a daily basis is a massive help.”

By following these simple steps, you can ensure you've applied for the right funding and that the right people know what you need. That way everything can be in place for when you start.

The Student Room welcomes guest blogs from external contributors. This is from Randstad Student Support. For more on the organisation and for more real-life stories, go to Randstad.