Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) and other funding

Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) is a grant that can help meet the extra course costs students can face as a direct result of their sight loss and/or other disabilities.

 It will enable you to study and have access to course materials on an equal basis to other students and is paid on top of the standard student finance package.

The amount you will receive depends on the amount and types of extra support you'll need. The DSA grant does not have to be repaid and doesn't affect any benefits you may be in receipt of. It's also important to know that your entitlement to DSA is not affected by your household income - it's about what you need.

What types of things can my DSA pay for

  • Items of specialist equipment - for example screen readers, computer magnification software, braille note takers.
  • Non-medical helper's allowance - for example library support or the use of a reader or scribe during examinations.
  • General allowance - which can cover things like enlarged examination papers and course materials.

One great thing about DSA is that the equipment it pays for is yours to keep and can be kept at home or at your halls of residence. DSA can also pay for the costs of learning braille, rehabilitation skills and mobility training, taxi fares to and from university and training in the use of access technology.

It's important that you are aware of the wide range of support that you may be able to access through your DSA payment. Think about the list outlined above before you leave college and talk through what your needs have been in the past and what they may be throughout your course of study. You may need some mobility training on arrival to familiarise yourself with certain routes and the layout of the university. Give thought to all of these things when you are looking for and applying to university.

Top tip on technology

You may not know much about the wide range of technology that's on the market and, with technology advancing constantly, it can be hard to keep up. It might be a good idea to contact someone who can come and visit you to show you the latest products on the market. You may want to check out organisations such as Ability Net and Blind in Business, which offer advice to blind and partially sighted students moving into education or work including assessments, equipment supply, ICT training and employment services. RNIB also has information on the latest technology.

If you see something that you think might be useful at university, you can discuss this with the disability support service and your DSA assessor, who may be able to apply for it under the DSA payment.

Technology support

Guidance on free technology tools and the range of technology related support you should be able to expect from post 16 learning providers is available from the JISC TechDis website.

You can download the below guide to help you find information on how technology can help, what you might need, what your college or university can provide as well as what you can do yourself:

How do I apply for DSA?

You should apply for DSA as soon as possible and not wait until you've been accepted on to a course. We recommend applying for DSA the summer before you start university as this will allow your application to be processed and your equipment and support put in place in time for the start of your course. You can apply on starting university, however, this may result in delays in you receiving your recommended support and could impact your learning initially.

In England

You should apply directly to Student Finance England for DSA. This can be done at the same time you are making your UCAS application. You'll need to supply evidence with your application of your disability. This might be a letter from your doctor or VI specialist. Student Finance England or your University Student Support or Disability Officer will be able to advise you on the evidence you need to submit. You can find further details and download an application form at GOV.UK Disabled Students' Allowances. For large print, Braille or audio versions contact Student Finance England by calling 0141 243 3686 or email brailleandlargefonts@slc.co.uk

In Scotland

Visit Disabled Students Allowance in Scotland to find out more about DSA. To be eligible to apply for support from Students Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS) you must meet certain residence conditions as set out in The Students' Allowances (Scotland) Regulations 2007 (as amended) and be studying a course of higher education at HNC or equivalent level or above. SAAS have to confirm that you have been accepted onto a course that SAAS support before they can consider you for the additional allowances such as DSA. The process can take time so it is essential that you apply for the DSA as early as possible. You can apply for the DSA usually from the end of April.

In Wales

This is provided by the local education authority where you live. So if you live in Wrexham but are applying to Cardiff University, your DSA would be funded by Wrexham Local Education Authority.
To find out more information about DSA, how to apply and download your application form visit: Student Finance Wales.

In Northern Ireland

To apply, you must first make contact with the DSA officer at your Education and Library Board to determine your eligibility for Disabled Students' Allowances.

You should then contact the officer at your university or college who deals with student disabilities and/or learning disabilities (most institutions have a designated disabilities advisor). This person will make arrangements to assess your needs, arising from your disability, in following the course. The application for DSA will then be made through your adviser to the Board. It must be supported by evidence of the disability (e.g. from a doctor or educational psychologist), recommendations on the form of support needed and costs. To find out more information about DSA, how to apply and download your application for at Student Finance Northern Ireland.

The DSA Assessment

If you qualify for DSA, you'll be asked to attend an 'assessment centre' for an 'assessment of need' to work out what support and equipment you might need.

What does an assessment involve

  • Discussion of your study methods and requirements for appropriate learning support and technology.
  • Evaluation of your existing study skills.
  • Hands on trials of equipment.
  • Evaluation of the effectiveness of technology to match your requirements.
  • Research to ensure the equipment is appropriate to your course and place of study.
  • A report including specifications, prices and suppliers of equipment.

The assessor should have received information about the support you have received at school or college and will also take into account:

  • the prognosis of your sight condition,
  • the demands of the course over the coming years.

The assessor will then write a report setting out all the help they think you need and will send this to the relevant funding body. They will also send a copy to you, for you to agree the content.

Remember, you are the best person to describe your own needs so make sure your voice is heard.

Booking your assessment

Some universities have assessment centres located within their student support or disability service which you can attend. If you would prefer to attend an assessment centre nearer home, you can find your nearest Quality Assurance Group (QAG) registered assesment centre, by visiting www.nnac.org and click on 'Finding an assessment centre'.

Action for Blind People have a Disabled Student Allowance (DSA) registered centre at the RNIB London office. Action for Blind People can advise on a wide range of access technology for blind and partially sighted people including CCTV magnifiers, text enlargement software, speech systems, braille note takers and text scanners.

RNIB has a network of experienced technology and regional young people officers who are there to help. Visit our DSA Assessment Centre pages to find out more and book your assessment of need.

What if my needs change throughout my time at university

The DSA assessment is designed to meet your needs throughout your time at university but sometimes things change. You may experience deterioration in your sight or may come up against a particular module which causes problems and may require you to have access to a new piece of equipment. If you experience any such difficulties you are entitled to request a 'top-up assessment' which will look at a particular problem and provide a solution.

You can find out more about how to request a 'top up assessment' by using the contact information in the How do I apply for DSA? section above.

Other funding

As well as Disabled Students Allowances (DSAs), you may be able to secure funding through other avenues, such as:

Grant awarding charities

You can apply for alternative funding from a variety of charitable trusts and organisations to help secure funding towards any additional support or equipment to help your studies.

For further information download our list of grant awarding charities which may assist blind and partially sighted students here:

Other Government funding schemes

Access to Learning Fund

If you're in financial difficulty, you may be able to claim extra financial help through the Access to Learning Fund (ALF).

You need to apply for the Access to Learning fund through your university or college. Ask your Disability or Student Support officer for information on this. Also visit GOV.UK Student finance, loans and universities.

Student Grants

If you are a full-time student, you may be eligible for a student grant to help with living and study costs. You don't pay grants back. You can apply for a Maintenance Grant or Special Support Grant. Find out if you can apply and how much you can get by visiting GOV.UK Student finance, loans and universities.

Additional funding

You may be able to claim Disability Living Allowance in addition to Disabled Students' Allowances and other forms of student finance.

Further details are available from GOV.UK Student finance, loans and universities.

Government benefits

Most full-time students can't claim welfare benefits. However, if you're registered blind or you get Disability Living Allowance (DLA), you may be able to apply for other benefits including Housing Benefit. Housing Benefit can be paid towards the cost of living in halls provided by your university or college, as well as if you live in private rented accommodation. The amount you can claim depends on various factors, including the available income from student loans and maintenance grants (but not the Special Support Grant as this doesn't count as income).

For individual benefits advice it's best to speak with a welfare rights specialist in the student money advice team at your university or college or try your local Citizens Advice Bureau. You can also get advice from the Disability Rights UK student helpline. Tel 0800 328 5050. Email skill4disabledstudents@disabilityrightsuk.org.

Also visit our 'Life skills - managing your money' pages for further advice on benefits, budgeting, debt advice as well as contact information for the RNIB Welfare Advice team across the UK.

Government reforms to higher education

Universities can charge up to £9,000 per year in tuition fees. You can cover the cost of your tuition through a student loan, which you only start to pay back when you are earning over £21,000 a year.

There is also be a National Scholarship Programme from 2012 to help people from lower income households. This is available directly from the university and includes:

  • fee waivers
  • a free foundation year leading to progression to a professional career
  • discounted accommodation or other similar institutional service
  • a financial scholarship/bursary.

Further details are available from GOV.UK Student finance, loans and universities.

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