Disabled UCAS Applicants

If you have a disability or a particular learning difficulty, it is a good idea to get in touch with each institution you are going to apply to before submitting your UCAS application.

Under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), universities and colleges are not allowed to discriminate against disabled students in their admissions procedures and provision of student services.

They have to make adjustments so you do not suffer any major setbacks while studying for your degree.

Disability coordinators

Most universities and colleges have disability coordinators or advisers.

You can search for their contact details on the Skill: National Bureau for Students with Disabilities website at www.skill.org.uk/into_hefe/into_he.asp.

The disability coordinator can tell you what support is available at the college/university, and will help you set up an information visit.

This will give you an opportunity to talk to staff about any adaptations that may be needed.

You may also want to have a chat with the head of department or other academic staff for specific course information.

Visiting institutions

If you visit a college or university, it might be helpful to take with you a checklist of questions to ask members of staff and students.

What you ask will obviously depend upon the nature of your disability, but the following are some examples of the questions you might include.

  • Are all the buildings I need to use physically accessible?
  • Are there any facilities specifically for disabled students?
  • Are there any current students with a similar impairment?
  • What support do they receive?
  • Who will help organise my support?
  • Can you help me apply for additional funding if required?
  • Are the methods of teaching and assessment suited to my needs?
  • What would happen if I started the course and encountered a problem?

Should I write about my disability in my personal statement?

While you may feel you don't want to draw too much attention to your disability on your UCAS form, that doesn't always mean you shouldn't.

If you can talk about your disability in a way that casts yourself in a positive light, then it can certainly help your application.

For example, if it has influenced you to become more disciplined, or seen as an obstacle in your life that you have successfully overcome and won't let it hold you back, then it's worth mentioning.

However, if you're uncertain whether you want to talk about your disability or not, remember you don't have to refer to it in your personal statement. It's entirely your decision.

Preparing to go

Telling the institution about your disability in advance can also help them to prepare and arrange support in time for the start of your course.

If you are unsure what to tell your potential universities and colleges, you may find it helpful to read the Disclosing your disability booklet on the Skill: National Bureau for Students with Disabilities website.

The university or college will not always pay for everything itself. Instead, you may be able to get funding through Disabled Students' Allowances.

Disabled Students' Allowance (DSA)

DSAs are designed to help with the costs that you incur, in attending your course, as a direct result of your disability or specific learning difficulty.

They are available to full-time and part-time students with disabilities, although part-time students with disabilities must be studying at least 50% of a full-time course.

How much you get does not depend on your income or that of your household. Unlike student loans, this assistance does not have to be repaid.

Depending on your needs, extra support from the DSA could include:

  • specialist equipment, e.g. computer software, digital recorders, tapes
  • a non-medical helper, e.g. a note-taker, specialist tutor or sign-language interpreter
  • extra travel costs you have to pay because of your disability
  • other costs, e.g. Braille paper, ink cartridges.

It is important that you let your awarding authority, e.g. Student Finance England, local authority (LA) in Wales, Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS) or local education and library board (ELB) in Northern Ireland, know straight away if you have a disability and think you will need extra help or equipment on your course.

In England you can request an application form for Disabled Students' Allowances at the same time as making your online UCAS application.

Eligibility

You can apply if you are doing:

  • a full-time course that lasts at least one year (including a distance-learning course)
  • a part-time course that lasts at least one year and doesn't take more than twice as long to complete as an equivalent full-time course (including a distance-learning course)

Undergraduate students will usually be eligible for Disabled Students' Allowance if you are a disabled undergraduate student who is eligible for support from: Student Finance Engand; an LEA in England and Wales; a Local Education and Library Board in Northern Ireland; the Student Awards Agency for Scotland; or the NHS Student Grants unit.

If you are a postgraduate student, you must have been living in the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man for three years immediately before the start of the academic year.

Who is not eligible?

If you are eligible for a bursary from the NHS, you do not qualify for Disabled Students' Allowances from Student Finance England or your local authority.

You can, however, apply for equivalent help through the NHS bursary scheme.

You also won't qualify for Disabled Students' Allowances from Student Finance England or your local authority if you're a postgraduate student receiving:

  • a research council bursary or award
  • a social work bursary from the NHS Business Services Authority that includes equivalent support
  • a bursary or award from your college or university that includes equivalent support

You should contact the provider of your bursary or award for advice on any extra support you may be entitled to because of a disability.

How to apply

You can apply for Disabled Students' Allowance any time before or during your course, though as mentioned earlier, it's important to let your funding authority know immediately if you have any disability or learning difficulty. You will also have to provide evidence of your disability.

If you have an impairment, medical condition, illness or a mental health condition, you will need to provide medical proof of this - for example, a letter from an appropriate medical professional.

If you have a specific learning difficulty such as dyslexia, you must provide evidence in the form of a 'diagnostic assessment' from a psychologist or suitably qualified specialist teacher. If you have had a diagnostic assessment in the past, it may need to be updated.

You will have to pay for any tests to establish your eligibility for Disabled Students' Allowances.

If you need a test but cannot afford to pay for it, you may be able to get financial help through your university or college's Access to Learning Fund.

Application procedure for full-time undergraduate students

If you are entering higher education for the first time in 2012/2013 and are applying to your funding authority for financial support, you should indicate on the eligibility application form (PN1) that you have a disability and wish to apply for DSA. 

You will then automatically be sent a DSA application form (DSA1), or you can download them from the sites listed below.

You must provide details of your disability and the date of your last assessment either on the application form or in a covering letter.

Once your funding authority has confirmed your eligibility for DSAs, they will then ask you to have a needs assessment carried out so that the help you need on your course can be identified.

Application procedure for part-time undergraduates and all postgraduates

If you're studying part time or doing a postgraduate course, you need to take the DSA1 form to your college or university, ask them to sign it and then send it to the address printed on the form.

You don't need to get your university or college to sign your DSA1 form if you're a part-time higher education student and they have already completed form PTG1 for you. Just send it straight to the address printed on the form once you've filled it in.

Assessment of needs

To find out exactly what your needs assessment will involve, each institution you have applied to will have a section on their website for disabled students that explains what you can expect in an assessment, as many universities have their own assessment centre on campus.

However, if you do not wish to travel to your insitution(s), you can book an assessment at an independent assessment centre - click here to find your nearest centre.

You will not have to pay for an assessment if your funding body (e.g. Student Finance England, your Local Authority or NHS Student Bursaries) has confirmed that you are eligible for Disabled Students' Allowances.

How long will it take?

Ideally, you should start applying as soon as you receive either a conditional or unconditional offer from the University. However, it can be done at any time after this or during your studies.

The process of obtaining assessments and equipment is a slow one, especially during the first few weeks of term when staff in funding authorities and universities are very busy.

Therefore it normally takes a minimum of 3 months between your initial application and the arrival of equipment.

It is important that you maintain contact with your funding authority throughout the process and respond quickly when you are required to do something.

How much help can I get?

There are no set amounts for the costs covered by the disabled students' allowance, as you will only receive enough to cover your individual needs, which will have been established by your needs assessment.

However, there are maximum allowances that are aimed to support the highest levels of need, so most applicants will get less than this.

For the academic year 2011/12, the maximums for full-time and part-time higher education students are:

Full-time undergraduate students

  • Specialist equipment allowance - up to a maximum of £5,161, for the entire course
  • Non-medical helpers allowance - for help with study related personal support, up to £20,520 a year
  • General allowance - up to £1,724 a year
  • Travel costs - students may claim reasonable costs if they have to pay extra costs to attend university because of a disability. You will not be eligible for everyday travel costs, which any student would expect to pay.

Part-time undergraduate students

  • Specialist equipment allowance - up to a maximum of £5,161, for the entire course
  • Non-medical helpers allowance - as a percentage of the full-time rate up to £15,390 per year; for example, for a student studying 50% of a full time course up to £10,260 a year; or 60% of a full-time course up to £12,312 a year
  • General allowance - as a percentage of the full-time rate in the same way as the non-medical helpers allowance, up to £1,293 a year
  • Travel costs - students may claim reasonable costs if they have to pay extra costs to attend university because of a disability. You will not be eligible for everyday travel costs, which any student would expect to pay.

Postgraduate students

Postgraduate students (including Open University students and other distance learners) can apply for a single allowance to cover all costs.

The maximum allowance for 2011/2012 is £10,260.

The money will either be paid into your bank account or directly to the supplier of the services - for example your university, college or equipment supplier.

More information

To find out more about the Disabled Students' Allowance, you can download the PDF booklet 'Bridging the gap' here.