Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) and other funding

Disabled Students Allowances (DSAs) are allowances towards the extra course costs students can face as a direct result of their sight condition and/or other disabilities. DSAs enable you to study and have access to course materials on an equal basis to other students and they are paid on top of the standard student finance package.

University graduates

The amount of money available depends on the amount and types of extra support you need. DSAs don’t have to be repaid and don’t affect any benefits you may be in receipt of. It's also important to know that your entitlement to DSAs is not affected by your household income – it's about what you need. DSAs are available to students on designated higher education courses who are ordinarily resident in the UK. 

One young person described how important DSA was to her:

“It’s been very, very useful in terms of my equipment and my non-medical help, because without those things I couldn’t go to university really. I wouldn’t be able to access my course without this equipment that I put through DSA because I didn’t have it otherwise. I couldn’t have just bought it off my own back.”


What types of things can my DSA pay for

The government has recently reviewed, and may do so again, its plans for DSA; check the most up to date information on the Gov.UK - DSA page

Students could have DSAs to 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 during examinations.
  • General allowance – which can cover things like enlarged examination papers and course materials.
  • Travel costs- for additional travel costs related to your disability.

DSAs do not pay for the costs of help that you would receive whether you are a student or not. If you need personal assistance on a daily basis, you should be able to get support through your local social services or social work department.

Some changes to DSAs were introduced for students starting in September 2015. Students will be asked to contribute the first £200 towards the cost of their computer even if they need it as part of their support package. Students will now have to pay their printing costs, whether they use the university or their own equipment. Students will also not get DSAs towards the costs of adapted accommodation needs if they are in university housing or housing provided by an agent to the university.

However universities are required to make reasonable adjustments as outlined above so that disabled students are not at a disadvantage compared with others.

One great thing about DSAs is that the equipment they pay for is yours to keep and can be kept at home or at your halls of residence. DSAs can also pay towards the costs of learning to use new equipment required for your course e.g. a braille embosser, dictaphone or access technology, as well as supporting mobility and orientation around campus, and taxi fares to and from university.

Think about the list 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. You may need different support while on a field trip or work placement. Give thought to all of these things when you are looking for and applying to university. 

Technology support

You may not know much about the wide range of technology that is on the market and, with technology advancing constantly, it can be hard to keep up.

One young person discovered a lot of new technology during the DSA process which he had previously been unaware of:

“There’s a lot of things that I wasn’t aware of at the time. I was very surprised with what they can actually provide, and the detail they actually go into, I had no idea there was software programme that can read out stuff to you, if you highlighted things. I was very surprised with what was there really.”

There are a wide range of sources of information available. 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. Alternatively you could consider attending QAC Sight Village where you will be able to see a wide range of equipment all in one convenient location.

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 needs assessor, who may be able to include it in their list of recommendations to Student Finance England.

You can download the following guides 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?

When applying for DSA to your respective agency, it will be necessary to provide supporting evidence of your disability(ies). Some young people have been held up in making their applications whilst waiting to get their evidence, so we would advise on requesting for this as soon as possible. 

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 [email protected]

In Scotland

The Students Awards Agency Scotland is an agency of the Scottish Government giving financial support to eligible students doing a course of higher education in the UK. Visit Disabled Students Allowance in Scotland for information on all types of student funding available and allows you to apply for your financial support.

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). 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.

On reflecting on their DSA assessment, one young person said:

“I think it was really, really good. It was literally asking questions about everything, and I found that everything was tailored to what I needed, there wasn’t anything that I am not really happy about, because everything I needed was taken into account and it really, really helped.”

Remember, you are the best person to describe your own needs so make sure your voice is heard. Read through the advice at the start of this section, and also talk to other friends with visual impairment at university, your QTVI, the disability support officer and/or someone from the department of your chosen university and get clear in your head the support that you need. Listen too to your assessor and the suggestions which they have. 

DSA Assessment guide

We have produced a guide which looks at specific things you may want to consider prior to your needs assessment meeting. Remember, your needs assessor may not be a specialist in your condition so it is helpful if you have a clear idea of what would be most useful for you before your meeting:

Booking your assessment

Some universities have assessment centres located within their student support or disability service which you can attend, or assessment centres which they often recommend students use. The advantage of these centres is the assessors tend to have a good knowledge of the university and the types of support available at it. If you would prefer to attend an assessment centre nearer home, you can find your nearest Quality Assurance Group (QAG) registered assessment centre, by visiting www.nnac.org and selecting "Assessment centres".

RNIB have a Disabled Student Allowance (DSA) registered centre at their London office. RNIB 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.

To find out more about DSAs visit the Gov.UK website.  

RNIB operates DSA Assessment Centres in Surrey and London.

Useful information and contacts

Disability Rights UK

Disability Right's funding education factsheets have lots of handy details about, support and finance. You can also get advice from the Disability Rights UK student helpline on 0330 995 0414 11am-1pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays or email [email protected].

Disability Rights UK also produces an annual Into Higher Education guide for students with disabilities. It answers common questions and gives students information on funding and provides a useful section focused on "Disability Support Services" and what to expect.

Government website

You can find further details about DSA 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 [email protected].

For general Student Finance information visit the GOV.UK Student finance.

Save the Student

Save the Student provides free, impartial advice to students on how to make their money go further. They have a helpful guide on applying for DSA.

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 contact Disability Rights UK, speak with a welfare rights specialist in the the student money advice team at your university or college or try your local Citizens Advice Bureau. 

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.