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Physical disabilities: in higher education

Applying for and starting university can be an incredibly daunting prospect for any student. We all know how overwhelming it can be…but fear not! You are not alone and there is a lot out there to help you with the change.

Whether it is information on applications, details on university accessibility and living facilities or perhaps details about additional help and support in your daily life the information is there. Our one tip: get organised and get started—as soon as possible. In some cases, it can take a year or more to get everything in place.

Applying for university

Whatever your disability, it is a good idea to get in touch with the institution you are going to apply to before submitting your application. Each university will have a disability coordinator who will help identify your specific requirements and the support available at that particular university.

Whether you choose to live on or off campus, you may need to consider getting additional help and support in your daily life, especially for things like cooking, cleaning or transport. The disability coordinator will advise accordingly and organise things for you. 

Your first point of call is the Students with disability section of the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) website. UCAS will provide all of the relevant contact details and relay all of the important information for you to bear in mind when speaking to the institution and disability coordinator. UCAS will also provide direction with regard to funding eligibility

UCAS has listed some important considerations to bear in mind when speaking to the relevant disability coordinator. Here are some of the questions you should ask:

  • How does the support available meet my individual requirements?
  • Does the course provider support other students with a similar disability or impairment to that of mine?
  • Who will help me with my Disabled Student Allowance application?
  • Do I need to provide proof of my disability?
  • If I need someone to talk to the course provider on my behalf, can I nominate a person?
  • How do I go about organising my personal care needs with social services?

We strongly advise you visit as many of the universities that you apply for as possible—particularly if physical access is a consideration.

Finances at university

Take a look at the Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA), a grant available to meet the costs of extra equipment and support for students in England. While amounts vary (based on the support you need, not income), often these bursaries won’t require paying back. You can request an application for DSA at the same time as making your online UCAS application.

A helpful hint: Ticking "disabled" on a UCAS form or the relevant box on a student loan form will start a multi-step application process and you should receive your DSA in time.

If you are living outside of England, please note: Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have similar schemes: 

Some disabled students might be eligible for other financial assistance on top of DSA or PIP (Personal Independence Payment). Disability Rights UK has a helpful factsheet on Funding higher education for disabled students. And for more information, you can visit the disabled students helpline website or try Scope's benefits checker.

Starting university—the ultimate checklist

Scope has pulled together an incredibly coherent Top Tips list for disabled students starting out at university. With handy hints covering relevant paperwork that must be completed, along with transport and accessibility tips and much much more, this is an absolute must read!

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