Applying to University as a Disabled Student
“Every year, over 60,000 students with physical and/or mental health conditions and learning difficulties apply through UCAS to study at a university or college in the UK” (UCAS). Each and every one of those students deserves the opportunity to reach their full potential. Although there is a lot of support available for disabled students, many are not aware, are unsure from whom to get advice, or feel uncomfortable seeking the support they need. The purpose of this article is to address these issues and point students in the right direction.
The primary support provided by the government is the Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA). This is designed to help cover any extra study-related costs that you incur due to your condition. You do not need a confirmed place at university to apply for this and it can be completed alongside your student finance application. Although you can apply at any time during your studies, the process can take up to 14 weeks so the earlier you apply, the better. During the process, you may be invited to complete a needs assessment where you are shown the vast range of things available to support your studies including, but not limited to, speech recognition software, note-taking aids, and ergonomic equipment. You will likely be introduced to things you have never tried before and my biggest piece of advice here is to say yes even if you are not sure. It is better to have something and not use it than to discover you need it and undergo the process to obtain it.
This is an important task for any student, it can have a huge impact on your university experience. Many of the considerations regarding location and accommodation type are not unique to disabled students, but you may have a few additional concerns. For example, climbing stairs can be very difficult for me at times. As a result, I asked to have a room on the ground floor and this request was granted. You may need wheelchair access or to have an en suite, by asking the university, these things can be arranged. Many buildings, particularly in older universities, may not be fully accessible and this is something that requires research. You should make your needs known to the university and they will be able to suggest the suitable options, in addition, university open days or virtual tours are a great way to get more information.
Once you get to university, there will be people and institutions specifically designed to provide ongoing support during your studies. For me, it was the Disability Advisory Service. Prior to my arrival, I was contacted by my personal disability coordinator and we began to develop a relationship. When issues arose, they were my first port of call. For example, in 2nd year, my living situation changed unexpectedly, and I was much further from my lecture halls and department buildings than I would have liked. After speaking to the Advisory Service, I had a taxi account set up to help me get where I needed to go at a subsidised price. Similarly, if you require mental health support, there are dedicated staff, counsellors, professionals, and peer supporters who are available to help.
When it comes to your lecturers, professors, or tutors, some of them may be aware of your situation but some may not. It is best to be open and honest with them as much as you feel comfortable with. The more they know, the more they can help.
Support with the transition
Furthermore, there can be significant challenges surrounding the transition from further to higher education, particularly for students with anxiety or ASD. There are many new things to deal with and it can be overwhelming for anyone. Some universities have summer schools that are specifically designed to help students with anxiety or ASD to familiarise themselves with this new chapter and hopefully smooth the transition.
As with most aspects of our lives, COVID-19 has impacted universities drastically. For disabled students this has had many implications. For prospective students, it is important to do the additional research to understand what may have changed. Learning delivery and assessment methods are largely online, the accessibility of these platforms must be considered, and specialist equipment may be required to help you manage this. Social distancing measures have impacted the availability of non-medical helpers and this is something to speak to the university about.
The biggest piece of advice I have is to ask when you need help. You should never feel like you are inconveniencing anyone, these institutions have a duty to support you, and most importantly you deserve to feel comfortable. The help is there, be it government support, university-specific resources, or student societies, and it should be fully utilised.