Long time no blog, it’s been a while since I last uploaded on here. In all honesty I’ve struggled to find the time to write since starting university in September. So I’ve taken advantage of the little let up in work being set during reading week to get a couple of posts written because I’ve missed posting here.
Today I want to talk about Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA).
DSA is a government grant available in the UK for disabled students. It is available for people with a wide range of conditions including: autism, mental health conditions, physical or chronic illnesses and specific learning disabilities (SpLDs) such as dyslexia. Even if you do not personally identify as disabled you may still be eligible so it is definitely worth a look. Especially as it has been found that in 2017 nearly half the people eligible for DSA did not make a claim.
DSA funding can be used to fund a range of specialist equipment, software, mentoring and can cover extra academia related costs incurred as a result of disability. It aims to place you on a more level playing field to your able bodied peers. It is not a means tested grant and you are not required to return any of the equipment you are granted at the end of your degree. It is yours to keep. There are no costs; except if you live in England and are granted a laptop, you are required to pay £200 towards it (as all students, not just disabled ones require a laptop).
I applied through Student Finance England (SFE) so this is the application process I am going to be describing, it may differ slightly if you apply through an alternative funding body. When I was completing my main application to SFE I was asked if I wanted to make a DSA application, I then had to fill out a short form. The main step is compiling evidence of your condition(s) and how they affect you in education. This may take the form of clinic letters, diagnostic reports or your ECHP if you have one. Something to note here is that your evidence needs to be from after your 16th birthday, so if you were diagnosed previous to that you may have to pay for new evidence.
After submitting my evidence, I was granted DSA for my Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (M.E.) and was then invited to book a Needs Assessment. The thought of an assessment about my condition filled me with anxiety after previous experiences applying for PIP, however I was quickly reassured by people who had experienced a needs assessment that it was nothing like a PIP assessment- they were right.
My assessment was conducted via Skype due to the Covid-19 pandemic but they are usually in person so you can test out any software and equipment. My assessment took about an hour and a half, but this can vary. My assessor was lovely and very understanding when I needed to take a break due to fatigue, she also didn’t bat an eyelid when I needed to lie on the floor for a minute. It was more like an informal chat. She asked about my condition, how it affects me in my studies and about any support I had in place whilst attending school or college. She then talked me through her suggestions of things that DSA could supply to help me and modelled some of the software. She was incredibly knowledgeable and suggested things to help that I hadn’t considered before. After the assessment she then collated her recommendations into a report which advocated for as much support as possible by justifying my need for each item she had recommended. I was then sent a copy of this report to review and check I was happy with it before she submitted it to the funding body.
It took around 2 weeks for SFE to process my report. They then sent a DSA2 letter which outlined the support I had been awarded- I received everything that my assessor had suggested, which I am told, is what happens in most cases.
I was awarded a lightweight laptop and printer. The laptop is great and really easy to use. My assessor highlighted to SFE the importance of the laptop being light weight due to muscle weakness and I’m very grateful she did as it has made such a difference. The printer is also brilliant and has saved me a lot of energy as I don’t have to venture to the library every time I want to print something. Alongside the printer I was also granted an allowance for consumables such as paper and ink- you purchase this yourself, keep the receipts and claim the money back from SFE at a later date.
The laptop arrived with the software I had been granted already preinstalled ready to use. I was granted 4 pieces of software. The first being Read & Write (text to speech and highlighting for PDFs etc), Ayoa (mindmap software) Dragon (dictation) and Sonocent (recording). At the moment I use the first 2 most as online learning means many of my lectures and seminars are recorded already. To help me use the software I was also granted a microphone that attaches to my laptop to record from and a bluetooth headset for dictation as well as technology training with someone from the company to show me how to get the most out of each software. I was also given a high quality pair of noise cancelling headphones to help with my sensory sensitivity in communal working areas, I haven’t been able to test them out properly yet due to covid-19 restriction but they have been very helpful in keeping me focused whilst studying in halls.
Another thing that was recommended by my needs assessor was an ergonomic equipment assessment. This involved a Zoom call with a company who provides office equipment. We talked through the things I found difficult about working at a desk and they suggested pieces of equipment they could provide to help. The report from the company was then sent to SFE to be approved. Someone then came out to my house, well garden because of the pandemic, in full PPE to take my measurements. The equipment was then delivered 3 weeks later to my halls of residence, where again in full PPE, I was talked through everything I had been awarded.
I was granted a wide variety of equipment. Including an ergonomic desk chair, which is built specifically to my height and weight as well as providing support in targeted areas of my spine. A foot rest that tilts to help with the circulation in my legs. A laptop stand, wireless keyboard and adapted mouse. A lap desk, bed wedge and book seat- these have been particularly useful when having to study from bed. All of which is now mine to keep at no cost.
This equipment has been invaluable during the period of online learning. Don’t get me wrong being at university has taken a toll on my health- that’s a post for another day- but the equipment provided by DSA has enabled me to make the best start at university possible. So, if you think you may be eligible it is definitely worth a look.
I hope this has been helpful in outlining the process, making it appear less daunting and giving you an insight into some of the support available.
You can find more information at these links: