Before I went to uni, people were telling me to apply for Disabled Students Allowances. I was confused because whilst I recognised that I was disabled (I had, and still do have, chronic depression and anxiety), but I couldn’t think how DSA could be of any help to me whatsoever. I didn’t know anything about it, and even when you read the info booklets on them by Student Finance England (SFE), it doesn’t really give you examples of what it can fund, so it wasn’t much help. However, my sixth-form mentor helped me apply anyway and I got a supporting letter from my GP and off my application went.
After you apply for DSAs, you have to book a Study Needs Assessment with a trained advisor. This made me super anxious, so I took my partner with me for support. But I really didn’t need to be nervous. The advisor was very experienced, sensitive, and genuinely caring. I had no idea what kind of support I would need, but he had lots of ideas and after a couple of years at uni I owe a lot to his good, thorough report because it has helped me so much at uni.
I can’t remember the exact source, but I’e read somewhere that disabled students who don’t receive DSAs have one of the lowest student retention rates of all student groups, i.e. they are the group most likely not to finish their degree. Amazingly, students who DO receive DSAs have one of the HIGHEST retention rates. If you are going into higher education and have a long-term health condition, a disability (physical or mental), or a specific learning difficulty, you can apply for DSA and I strongly advise you to do it, even if, like me, you don’t know how it could help. It could literally be the difference between graduating and not managing to complete your degree.
And what I really wanted to do with this blog post is to be super honest and open and tell you what DSA has provided for me, to give you ideas of how it can help you:
A laptop (with insurance, a laptop bag, a mouse, a keyboard, a USB stick, a thingy that you can put under your laptop to adjust the height of it for it to be ergonomic) – Suffering with mental health problems makes it difficult for me to study in the library because I feel too unwell or anxious to go, so it means I can study from home.
A printer – for the same reasons, it can be hard to use printers on campus as I can’t often get there. Also, as part of my dyslexia I find it much easier to read long texts printed out on paper than on my computer screen so I always print off any journals I need to read, cases etc, so it doesn’t hurt my eyes as much or give me a headache as much and it means I can use coloured highlighters which I need to do to aid my poor short-term memory.
Computer programs – these are to help with planning and organisation which for me are poor because of my mental health problems and learning difficulties. Being honest the only one I use much is ClaroView which is a coloured screen tint, because I struggle with the bright screen lighting and black writing on white so I can tint it to a colour that will allow me to read and complete my work with more ease. But there are others I have that mean I can highlight things on the screen, I have an audioreader that can read out my work out loud which is useful for proofreading, a mindmapping application which is useful for planning essays etc.
General consumables allowance – this means there are certain things I can buy and then I can send the receipts off to claim the money back. These include non-core textbooks, printer paper, coloured overlays, printer ink, photocopying.
Mentoring support – this includes study support with a post-grad mentor who helps me with academic issues, and also support provided by staff in the disability centre who can help me navigate uni and ensure I get the help and support I need. E.g. my main point of contact in the disability centre arranged my dyslexia screening and subsequent assessment, did a cover overlay screening with me, is now arranging for me to hopefully get tinted classes, helped to arrange my Asperger’s screening and future diagnostic appointment, arranged my post-grad mentoring support, arranged my note-taking support, helped me to arrange my special exam requirements, contacts members of staff on my behalf to disclose to them my disabilities with my consent or to tell them about any issue that I’m having that I’d like them to know about, helped me to arrange my suspension of my studies, arranged library support for me etc.
A note-taker for my lectures – my attendance is patchy because of my mental health problems, and my concentration in lectures can also be patchy due to my mental health and sensory problems. I also write really slow because of my dyslexia and have a very poor auditory memory which impact on my note-taking ability.
These are just the things I get. There are other things they can pay for too if necessary, some other things I can think of are mental wellbeing mentoring, money to go towards getting an ensuite or accessable room in halls if it’s more expensive than a standard one, a travel allowance to go towards petrol or taxis or buses, recording equipment for lectures, specialist chairs, support workers to accompany you at uni if you need lots of support due to a physical disability, I’m sure there are loads of other things too.
To be clear, you don’t get given money per se, they pay for the items and then you get them, or in terms of consumables you pay yourself and then send the receipts off with a claim form and they reimburse you.
Hope this helps some people. If you are considering applying, just do it, seriously. You won’t regret it.