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Student Diaries: DSA - Disabled Students' Allowance

by Ouch Team

26th March 2007

You may have read our students' comments about waiting for equipment, and some cursing of their LEA over DSA and funding of access equipment. This is Ouch's simple guide to the cash and support that's out there to give you an easy ride through higher education.

What is DSA?

The DSA is the Disabled Students' Allowance, which exists to help you pay for extra educational needs that you have as a direct result of being disabled. These include equipment, materials and human assistance in your studies, and access to studying.

Will DSA help fund assistants to help me wash my hair or tidy my room?

'fraid not. As a first point-of-call it is best to get onto the local social services in your home area and talk to them about personal care and/or Direct Payment schemes. Hopefully, your university's Student Services should have a handle on the local personal care systems and help smooth your path.

Ouch says: although Direct Payment schemes can give you added flexibility with your Personal Assistant (PA) availability, the extra workload of setting it up, finding employees and managing payments may not be something you want to get into.

Is DSA 'means tested?'

Thankfully, no ... but you need to have a recognised disability-related need for it. To find out if you are eligible for DSA, contact your Local Education Authority (LEA) at the same time as you apply for your university place.

So, what happens next?

The next step will be to give you a needs assessment to find out what equipment and help, if any, you require. Your LEA will then look at your assessment results and agree what they will pay for.

Ouch says: Don't just turn up to your assessment with no knowledge of what's out there. Swot up on the equipment available and that you believe is the best thing out there for your personal needs. Know as much as they know, if not more. You are your own personal expert on you. Think big! Don't be shy. Remember your future is resting on how well you do at university, and your 'access' is a big part of that.

Why then does it seem to cause such distress to the the Ouch students?

It's a common story that disabled students often don't have their equipment and/or an agreement in place from their LEA when they arrive at university, which is frustrating and means lots of chasing up on the telephone.

Barbara Waters at SKILL says it's down to: "Efficiency of the LEA, coupled with fitting into an assessment timetable all within the short time-frame between exam results being released (mid-August) and the start of the new term at university (late September)".

In 2003, however, new working methods were introduced and, as Barbara tell us, "These mean that students are now able to have their assessments when their offers arrive in March. This should cut down on a lot of to-ing and fro-ing post exam results when you approach your local authority for a DSA funds agreement, because you'll already have your assessment in your hands and hence a greater likelihood that you will have your equipment and help in place by the time you turn up at your new university."

How many DSA claims are made?

DfES estimates for the year 2002-2003 showed that some 25,000 claims for DSA were accepted in the UK.
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