What happens during a DSA needs assessment?

Find AbilityNet's DSA Eligibility Checker here.

Disabled Students Allowances (DSAs) can provide additional support and funding to UK students in higher and further education. It is extra funding designed to ensure a level playing field for people with disabilities of all kinds and can be used to pay for specialist software, computer hardware and a range of study support and extra resources.

The funding comes from the Government and AbilityNet provides one part of the process - a one-to-one session with one of our assessors. They will identify your needs and prepare a report that recommends the extra support you need. But what happens at an assessment? And how should you prepare for it?

An assessment is not the first step in the DSA process. Some people will already have extra support at school or college and may have help with the DSA application process. However many others may not have applied for extra support before and will have to go through the application process from the start.

The DSA-QAG website provides full details about the process and links to relevant funding bodies.

DSA-QAG is the body that adminsiters the DSA funding

What support will work best for you?

Once you have applied and been told you are eligible for extra funding you will be told you need an assessment, using one of the many centres provided by businesses and charities around the UK.

AbilityNet is the largest not for profit provider of assessments - we have various centres and you can choose one that is near your home or your place of study.

You can use our website to submit your details and upload relevant documents and will then be given an appointment date, time and location. This is a quick process so there's no waiting aroudn and you can seak to our staff at any time if you have questions.

"It's just a chat"

Then comes the assessment. Some people will be concerned that it is a test of some kind - that they will have to prove their disability or be challenged to demonstrate how it affects them. The good news is that it’s basically a chat.

You have already been approved for funding and the assessors are there as independent experts, using their skills and knowledge to advise you on the best options and make recommendations to the funding body. So you will be in safe hands for the duration of the two-hour assessment.

They will explain the equipment and other resources available to you. You may be given the chance to test out some of the equipment. The assessor is not trying to catch you out, so don’t feel self-conscious or wary of being analysed.

Identifying the effect on your education

The assessor will take you through different aspects of higher education study and ask how your disabilities affect you in these areas. Some won’t be relevant to your disability but they will put the questions to you anyway as part of protocol. Once your particular issues have been identified and their severity gauged, the assessor will propose options that could benefit you, for you to choose from.

The categories include, but are not limited to:

  • Reading printed material
  • Producing written work like assignments and exams
  • Taking notes in lectures
  • Speaking such as using a phone, face to face or in groups
  • Hearing
  • Practical aspects of your course
  • Using the library
  • Communication and Social situations
  • Attendance (some people's disabilities may leave them too ill to attend college some days)
  • Work placements

As an example, for someone with dyslexia who struggles to take notes in lectures, a laptop might be offered. In a more acute case, a voice recorded or livescribe pen may be recommended.

They inform you of your options and suggest solutions to suit your needs, and you let them know whether you agree that their suggestions. You can mention if you’ve tried them before or if you have any concerns you would like to discuss.

Remember, the assessor will have already been through your medical evidence and will have an idea of what they are willing to offer, so you are not in a position of needing to persuade or convince them. With the previous example, you could ask for a human note taker instead of a voice recorder, but if your report demonstrates that this wouldn’t be necessary, the DSA may not approve it.

It's a positive experience

We have lots of positive feedback form our students but we also picked up lots of positive feedback from people in the Student Room forum about their DSA assessment (which may not have been with AbilityNet):

“It was a very positive and supportive experience. Probably the nicest part of the entire DSA process!”

“Mine [assessors] were lovely, she already had a sheet filled out with everything they thought would benefit me and what I ended up being recommended was very close to it bar a few things I turned down because I had tried them before and they hadn't worked out, such as a scribe in exams.”

“It was really useful and the assessor came up with some ideas that I otherwise wouldn't have had. For example, she suggested I get some hours of proofreading to ensure that my essays look nicely formatted as that's something I can't actually see.”

Once complete, the assessor will write up a report on your assessment to specify the support they have recommended. The funding body will then send you a letter confirming what the assessor has been able to secure for you.

Further information:

For those with a medical condition unsure of where to get the right evidence, the funding bodies have produced a ‘Disability Evidence Form’, which a GP can fill in with details of how your disability affects your study. These can be downloaded online and are often processed more easily than alternatives.

Check out our DSA Eligibility Checker here. 

Down's Syndrome and computing

Smiling boy with Down's syndromeDown's syndrome (also known as Down Syndrome) is a genetic condition that may often cause some level of learning disability and can include characteristic physical features. There are over 40,000 people of all ages in the UK with the condition.

Modern technology can be a big help for people with Down’s syndrome, and many already use modern information technology - in fact a 2015 survey found that 83% use a laptop or PC, 77% a tablet and 55% a smartphone. Smartphones and tablets provide apps that enable people to better orient themselves when travelling, to remember appointments, remind them to take their medicine or stay in permanent contact with their caregivers. All of which encourages greater independence.

Benefits for children

A number of benefits of computer-assisted learning for children with Down’s syndrome have been suggested by a variety of authors.

  • Improving motivation: The learning experience is enhanced with pictures, sounds and animation which may increase a child's interest and attention
  • Multi-sensory experience: Computers provide both visual and auditory input. Children with Down’s syndrome are 'visual learners'. ICT is particularly well suited to this learning style
  • Non-verbal mode of response: Children are able to give non-verbal responses, enabling them to demonstrate their understanding without having to produce a spoken response, which may be particularly difficult for them due to troubles with articulation, word finding and intelligibility
  • Being in control: Children begin to understand that they can have an effect on their surroundings through 'cause and effect' software; this sense of being in control develops further as children start to use familiar programs unassisted; self-esteem develops as they become more independent in their learning and presentation improves
  • Immediate feedback: Children are rewarded for their successes immediately, e.g. with pictures, sound effects or music, or prompted if they need to try again
  • Errorless learning: Software can be designed in such a way that the child is supported in order to achieve repeated success
  • Opportunities for practice: Children with Down’s syndrome need much more practice to acquire new skills and ICT can provide as many opportunities as necessary to repeat the same objective in exactly the same way
  • Self-paced learning: The child is able to proceed as fast or as slow as he or she wishes; the computer will 'wait' for the child to respond without prompting them before they have had time to fully process the information and construct their response

Ergonomic equipment changes

Most people with Down’s syndrome are able to use the keyboard and mouse with practice. However, first-time users may benefit from adapted keyboards, touch screens, and overlays. Lower case stickers for the keyboard are available for children unfamiliar with capital letters.

For more information on adapting your computer use My Computer My Way, AbilityNet's interactive guide to all the many ways you can change settings in your computer, tablet or smartphone.

Software

Mind mapping software, such as Freemind or Inspiration, is useful for making notes on content that you want to include in your work. You can also get software to speak text out for you.

One of the ways that people who have Down’s syndrome communicate is via Makaton which is a sign language vocabulary. There are Makaton-based apps which will run on an iPad, although please note this is not free.

Education

Single task software is great for error free learning; simple matching exercises; simple puzzle programmes; simple sequencing. Early year’s games software using song and rhyme is very popular with children with Down’s syndrome and plenty of opportunities for these types of activity are available in Flash. The hugely popular Interactive Visual Timetable software and Talking and Listening begins to explore the use of the recorded voice to aid with productive language skills and enunciation.

Speech intelligibility is usually a difficulty for children with Down’s and hearing impairment is common. A great deal of evidence suggests that 'teaching reading to teach talking' is possibly the most important intervention to support speech and language development.

The Reading and Language Intervention for Children with Down’s Syndrome (RLI) is an evidence-based programme designed to teach key reading and language skills to children with Down’s syndrome. It follows a prescribed framework within which content and teaching are tailored to meet individual needs. (http://www.dseinternational.org/en-gb/resources/teaching/rli/).

Spell checkers should be used with caution as they can not pick up an incorrect spelling if it is in fact a real word. Inclusive Writer and Writing with Symbols, which are examples of talking word processors, offer an imaginative solution; spellings have pictures to help the user to access the specific spelling that they need.

Case study: Michael builds his computing skills

Michael (16) has Down’s syndrome and a moderate learning disability. When Michael was 10, his school purchased a BBC computer for each classroom. He began to have successful interactions with the computer using the space bar, return key and arrows keys to manipulate cause effect programs as well as pre-literacy and pre-numeracy programs. When his classroom got a stand alone PC, Michael was exposed to a variety of more interactive software which used colour, graphics, animation and sound.

At 16, Michael has now a variety of skills using computer technology. He can access whatever CD-ROM software he wants to use and can open and shut down the computer successfully. He can type his name and address proficiently. His teacher has inputted vocabulary to the Clicker Plus grid – a supportive writing and multimedia tool which allows him to write and print his daily news. Using the program he can also access other vocabulary which has been inputted and he can create and produce simple stories.

Five Top Tips to Make Your Website More Accessible

By Joe Chidzik, senior accessibility consultant at AbilityNet

Accessibility can be a daunting topic if you’re just finding out about it. But there’s a lot you can do that is pretty simple. These five tips will make your site slicker and better to use for a wider audience and will help you meet your obligations under the Equality Act 2010.

Accessible sites work better for everyone1. Hide your mouse to check keyboard accessibility

Making your site accessible without using a mouse is a legal requirement, and something that will benefit many of your visitors. People with little vision rely on keyboard access as they cannot easily see the mouse cursor on the screen. Sighted users with motor difficulties such Parkinson’s or a stroke can find keyboard access simpler as well.

Just by hiding your mouse and trying to access your site and all its options with only a keyboard can show how you're doing and how to improve this. In particular, make sure that a visible focus indicator is always present (preferably a highly visible one), ie, so it is very obvious where your mouse or cursor is at any given time. Also make sure that there is a logical focus order around the page, ie that the page is set up in a way that doesn't mean screenreaders or other technology jump all over the page and don't make sense to all users.

2. Avoid poor contrast

Everyone finds low contrast text difficult to read, particularly people with low vision. Use a contrast checking tool such as Tanaguru's Contrast Finder, this allows you to enter two different colours and check the contrast between them. It can also suggest alternatives if the colours have insufficient contrast. Alternatively, a colour picker tool like the Contrast Analyser from the Paciello Group will help.

Hint: Trust your eyes too - it can be simple to spot offending text colours by eye, and then just verify them with the tool. This is best used early in the design process, so that issues can be addressed before the site goes live.

3. Do a free accessibility check

The organisation WebAIM (Web Accessibility In Mind) provides a free, automated, online checker here. This can give you quick feedback on some more technical issues on your website eg, if forms are correctly marked up with labels. This is great way to highlight issues during the development process. Be aware that any automated testing can only cover a small subset of all possible accessibility issues. However it is a valuable technique when used alongside manual testing.

4. Provide an accessibility page

An accessibility page is often an opportunity for organisations to state what measures they have taken to make their site accessible. You can also use this page to let people get in touch with any difficulties they experience while using your site. See AbilityNet's accessibility page for an example.

Getting feedback from people visiting your site is very valuable. By making it easier for users to feedback to you directly, you will benefit greatly by both demonstrating your commitment to improving your site, and being able to respond to individual issues as they arise.

5. Content is king: know your audience

People come to websites to find information, or to carry out an action. It makes sense to make this process as easy as possible for people. Know your expected audience, and write copy accordingly. Using financial jargon may be fine for visitors with a financial background, but other users may miss out. Good practise is to avoid jargon, or if it is necessary, provide a glossary.

Make use of headings, paragraphs and bulleted lists to break text up into meaningful sections. Make one key point per paragraph. Use different methods to convey information. Some users will prefer to read content, others will benefit from a video, others prefer a simplified, or illustrated guide.

For more information on AbilityNet's user testing with disabled people, click here.

Motor Neurone Disease (MND) and Computing

Motor Neurone Disease is also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease (after an American baseball player). It affects the muscles in your body causing them to be weak.  There is no known cure for this condition, but symptoms can be managed to help people to achieve the best possible quality of life.  This blog has been written to coincide with MND Awareness Month which runs throughout June.

Professor Stephen Hawking

According to the MND Association there are 5000 people with the condition in the UK. (Source: MND Association). The causes aren’t really understood but it may be something to do with chemicals and structures in the motor nerves.

The effects include difficulty speaking and movement; eating and swallowing are also affected and eventually the muscles that assist breathing fail. There are different types of the condition. Famous people with the condition include Professor Stephen Hawking.

FAQs about MND and computing

These commonly asked questions about having MND illustrate some of the many ways of using a computer effectively.

I sometimes find it hard to use the standard mouse. What can I do?

There are lots of different mouse alternatives available, including rollerballs and joysticks. Take a look at our factsheet about mouse alternatives to work out which one may be best for you.  If you have issues with “clicking” the mouse button you can download some free software which means you don’t have to do any clicking whatsoever.

You can also check My Computer My Way to see if changing the way the mouse pointer moves might help!

Can I talk to my computer?

If your voice is clear then we’d advise trying out voice recognition. It’s built into all new Windows and Apple computers as well as most tablets and smartphones.

For more details have a look at our easy to understand step by step instructions on My Computer My Computer.

We’ve also written a factsheet about voice recognition that offers advice about various options.

Some times you might find that your voice changes throughout the day. We’d recommend that you have a couple of different voice profiles. So for example you might have a “Morning voice” profile and an “Afternoon voice” profile.

Sometimes I have difficulty reaching all the keys on the keyboard. What can I do?

A lot of people like to use keyboards that don’t have the number pad on the right hand side. This means the keyboards are a lot smaller than normal ones. They are called “compact” keyboards.

A keyguard might also be useful. This will stop you from hitting two keys at once!  As the condition progresses it might be worth exploring other input options like switches.

There are lots of different keyboards available – take a look at our factsheet on keyboard alternatives to learn more about your options. 

Case study

Ben called us on behalf of his uncle Terry. Terry has had MND for a year and is now starting to find it difficult to use the mouse. We had a chat to Terry and have suggested some alternatives to the standard mouse such as a rollerball. We’ve also suggested installing some software which will do automatic “clicking”.  We have identified some retailers that have a “try before you buy” policy. We have also suggested that one of our IT Can Help volunteers might come to her house and help with installation of equipment.

More help from AbilityNet

AbilityNet provides a range of free services to help disabled people and older people.

Call our free Helpline

Our friendly, knowledgeable staff will discuss any kind of computer problem and do their best to come up with a solution. We’re open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm on 0800 269 545.

Arrange a home visit.

We have a network of AbilityNet ITCanHelp volunteers who can help if you have technical issues with your computer systems. They can come to your home, or help you over the phone.

We have a range of factsheets 

Our expert factsheets talk in detail about technology that might help you and can be downloaded for free. You may find our factsheets talking about voice recognition and keyboard alternatives useful.

My Computer My Way

Our free guide to all the accessibility features built into every computer, laptop, tablet and smartphone. We show you the adjustments that can make your time on the computer that bit easier.

Finalists announced for AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards 2016

The finalists for the AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards 2016 have been announced - 28 amazing individuals and organisations who are using technology to change the world. With awards that include accessibility, digital skills, young pioneers and digital health our Tech4Good Awards celebrate unsung heroes and international organisations alike for the hard work they put into using technology for social good.  Our panel of judges - which includes includes journalists, technologists and not-for-profit specialists - will now select the winners, but the Tech4Good People’s Award will be decided by you. Any of the 28 finalists can win this Award, and it’s up to you to tell us who you think should win.

AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards are supported by BTMark Walker of AbilityNet is the organiser of the Awards and says that the standard of the year's entries was higher than ever. "We received a record number of entries this year, and the standard was higher than ever," he said. "The judges took longer than ever to make their decisions but we now have 28 businesses, charities and individuals who demonstrate the amazing power of technology to make the world a better place."

"Huge congratulations to everyone who has made the final stages, and a massive thank you to everyone else who entered."

AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards Finalists 2016

AbilityNet Accessibility Award

BT MyDonate Award

BT Young Pioneer Award

Community Impact Award

Digital Health Award

Digital Skills Award

IT Volunteer of the Year Award

Vote now in the People's Award

Visit the Vote Now pagefollow @Tech4GoodAwards on Twitter and vote using the finalists' unique hashtag.

Every tweet and re-tweet counts as a vote, and you can find your favourite finalist’s hashtag on their page, listed below. Voting closes 5pm Tuesday 5th July. 

Five Top Tips for managing Arthritis in the Workplace

By Dan Wilson, assistive technology specialist at Barry Bennett

Spending long hours at your workstation can be an enormous challenge for anyone living with any type of arthritis. Degenerative spinal conditions and widespread joint pain reduce ones capacity to remain in a sedentary position and place increased demands on the supportive muscles in the body. If your arthritis is affecting you at work, why not try the following top tips.

the right chair ensures the right posture1. Get the right chair and look after your back

Use a good quality posture chair capable of providing effective support for your lower back area. Ideally the lumbar support should be adjustable in depth and height to give support in the correct area.

Using a head rest and adjustable arm rests on your chair will help to provide relief from neck and shoulder tension, whilst setting your chair to ‘free-float’ (unlocked mode) will encourage movement whilst sitting and help to alleviate lower back and hip pain.

use a stand to keep your laptop screen at the correct height2. Sort out the screen position

Make sure the top 30% of your display screen is positioned at eye level to help alleviate neck tension. This will ensure that your head remains in a neutral position when working and therefore helps to minimise neck tension.

Using a suitable monitor arm or adjustable laptop stand can help to achieve correct screen position. The Ergo Q- 220 laptop stand is a high-end laptop stand that is very lightweight, folds flat for transport and has the additional facility of an integrated document holder.

3. Try alternative input devices

a split keyboard is one of many options which can make a keyboard more comfortable to useTo deal with problems with wrists and hands there are lots of alternative input devices for any desktop or laptop computer.An ergonomic keyboard is a good way to help relieve tension in the wrists and hands. The split design of the Fujitsu Ergonomic Keyboard offers users the flexibility to alter the width and height for your comfort, whilst the integrated wrist rest provides support for your hands.

Or try a different mouse. For wrist pain or difficulties with grip we recommend trying a vertical type mouse such as the Evoluent IV®.

Or if you experience pain when clicking the mouse, why not try a low impact external touch pad like this GlidePoint Touchpad.

Dragon Naturally Speaking is one of many specialist voice recognition packages on the market4. Try using Voice Recognition Technology

Voice activated software helps when typing long documents and can reduce the use of your mouse. Most computer systems and smartphones have voice recognition options built in. This is more user-friendly than most people would imagine and can radically change your posture for the better.

Although built in options can help with some tasks Dragon Naturally Speaking for PC or Mac is the market leading software. Dragon also offers free apps for users of Apple or Android powered smart phones.

A sit-stand desk is an increasingly popular option in the workplace

5. Try a Sit-Stand workstation

Taking frequent breaks and alternating your sitting posture helps manage their joint pain and reduces muscular fatigue.

If you’re not in a position to invest in an expensive height adjustable desk, why not try a practical solution that can transform your existing workstation into an affordable sit-stand workstation. The VariDesk® is a spring loaded mini-workstation that sits on top of your existing fixed desk. It is capable of supporting your laptop or PC at a range of different heights.

More information about making arthritis and workplace adjustments

Rheumatoid Arthritis and Computing

RA is an auto-immune disease and quite different from osteoarthritis, the ‘wear-and-tear’ form of arthritis which many people get to some degree, particularly as they get older. It can cause disabling pain, stiffness and reduced joint function as well as severe fatigue and can have a huge impact on quality of life for them and their families.

#volunteersweek : One volunteer tells of 20 years service with ITCanHelp, supporting older and disabled people using tech

David Brew (pictured) is a member of the British Computer Society and coordinates the Northern Ireland branch of AbilityNet's volunteer service ITCanHelp. For 20 years, he has been volunteering to help older people and those with disabilities to get the most out of computers and technology. He tells us how it all started and what being a volunteer means to him.

David BrewHow did you start volunteering for ITCanHelp?

I'm a member of the British Computer Society and in the early 80s, we were involved in training unemployed people in computer skills as part of a government scheme. A man who was paraplegic applied and we had to think about how to do the training differently. It was very rewarding and he went on to set up his own successful business. I've been involved in helping disabled people use computers ever since.

A man called Ken Stoner who had Motor Neurone Disease set up ITCanHelp within the Society and later, the team decided to pass the service over to AbilityNet who now deal with the admin, insurance and expenses of ITCanHelp.

How many disabled and older people with computer issues have you helped?

I've volunteered with perhaps around 40 people myself and now run the service in Northern Ireland sending other volunteers out. But I still work with some clients myself. There are hundreds of ITCanHelp Volunteers, a small portion of those are in Northern Ireland.

Is there anyone you've volunteered for who has stayed in your mind?

Adrian, the man who was paraplegic and set up his own business, I remember with fondness. He went on to help us with the service. There was Ruth, who was blind. She was doing the administration for her husband's business and needed to get all her tech communicating with each other effectively, ie, getting her computer talking to her scanner, and the right screenreader and so on. She lived far into the countryside, so I helped her remotely and got things running smoothly.

Can you tell us about one of your most recent assignments helping a disabled or older person use tech?

Yes, a lady asked me to work with her son who had a learning disability. He was naïve in terms of threats online. He was indiscriminate in what he was downloading, the sites he visited and he was endlessly printing unnecessarily. It was a challenge to make sure I didn't inhibit the value of the web to him, but to protect him from threats and exhausting equipment such as the printer.

What do you enjoy about volunteering for ITCanHelp?

Seeing how thrilled people are with really simple help that changes their world. I worked with a blind physiotherapist who really loved using iPlayer to listen to the radio, it was important to him. But it wasn't working for him. He lived a long way from me, so again I helped remotely. We just needed to change his settings in Google Chrome and he was up and running. He was so, so grateful.

How have you dealt with huge changes in tech since you started volunteering?

Things have changed very much. I am a former computer programmer and behind all the gadgets, a lot of the principles are the same. Apps have always been there - formerly called computer programmes. Now they're just in a slightly different form and actually have less functionality.

What's the future for the service?

We have willing volunteers but it's sometimes hard to let the public know about what we offer. I will be trying to get to more events so we can eventually help more and more people. In Scotland and Wales there is a need for more volunteers for the service. 

More information

Interested in volunteering for AbilityNet?

Check out this inspiring video to hear more from our volunteers and those they help

“My computers and tech are now a useable tool, rather than a mish-mash of equipment,” says Jannette, who had a stroke aged 24

Jannette Connell was 24-year-old when she had a stroke, leaving her with mobility and memory difficulties, along with severely impaired sight.

After struggling to get the most out of technology for more than 30 years, Jannette contacted AbilityNet in 2014 and was sent  volunteer IT helper Pankaj, who has been able to spring clean her tech life so that she “feels normal again”.

Technology tailored to your needs

Jannette, now in her fifties, explains: “Pankaj and AbilityNet have been of immense help with helping me sort my computers into a useable life tool rather than a mish-mash of equipment.

“With my conditions, it is difficult to find people to understand and have the patience to listen to my difficulties, but Pankaj gives me encouragement and confidence with his manner. There are still a few issues to sort with some software but I can rely on Pankaj to be on the case.”

Feeling confident and able with technology

Jannette says she is now more comfortable and confident with technology and uses her various devices throughout her daily life, which she couldn't do before.

“I use online banking and shopping and Skype my sister in Canada as well as emails and Facebook," she explains. "I do a lot of computing on my iPad, particularly when I'm away, and I use Youtube for knitting and crocheting patterns and demonstrations."

Janette, Jeremy and Pankaj

Photo: (left to right) Janette's carer Jeremy, Janette and Pankaj

Last year Jannette raised more than £600 using her knitting and crotcheting skills to create poppies for the Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal.

Specialist software

The Hertforshire resident had received free equipment over the years, but had been offered little training and because of her difficulties, had trouble remembering what she was taught.

“Jannette also felt unable to deal with specialist software companies and wasn't confident she was getting the best service from them,” explains Stuart Goldberg, Hertfordshire County Coordinator for AbilityNet's ITCanHelp volunteering service.

Local IT business analyst Pankaj Bhasin was sent to Jannette. Since then, he has spent considerable time and effort making her computers more responsive to her needs. “Pankaj has advised her on choosing a new computer and has set up new hardware and software to improve performance, security and accessibility,” says Stuart.

Skilled volunteers

The volunteer, who works for a charity in his day job, offers: “Helping people is in my nature. I was looking for some sort of opportunity where I could utilise my skills and experience to help people by any means.”

Jannette and her carer Jeremy are thrilled with the help, which they say is over and above what other charities offer. “Pankaj and AbilityNet have been absolutely brilliant. The service is there for all disabilities and thank god it's there for people.” See Janette and Pankaj explain more about the IT Can Help service in our short video, here.

Click here if you would like information about AbilityNet's It Can Help service, and have a volunteer come to your home

How a workplace assessment can help you stay on track after a stroke

See how Emma in her 20s began learning to type and text again following a stroke

What’s the future for DSA? Update from AbilityNet Practitioner Days

It's no secret that the Disabled Student Allowance (DSA) grant is in flux - and because AbilityNet has centres around the country, we are gaining increasing knowledge of how government cuts are taking shape on the ground.

Things are changing fast, and as we start to hear back from the first batch of requests for accessible equipment and human helpers, we'll begin to see how the changes will affect students, universities and colleges.

Disabled Student Allowance changes

If you're unsure how the future looks for DSA, and are keen to keep supporting disabled students to have access to supportive tech and helpers, join us at our Practitioner Days in June and July. We will also be looking at the latest tech in this space.

photos of the university of Warwick
Photo: University of Warwick. Credit: Coventry City Council (Flickr)

As a charity, our Practitioner Days offer us and you, a great way to connect with people in FE and HE who are working with disabled students. The sessions are free and take place in London, Birmingham, Brighton and Bristol. See full information on the DSA Practitioner Days here

Debra Jackson, a DSA adviser at Coventry University attended a recent Practitioner Day and says she found it helpful. “The most useful thing was the opportunity to look at some assistive software. As a disability adviser everyone expects us to be up-to-date with the latest features and versions. It was good to hear about free stuff too,” she says. 

Meanwhile, here is an update on the DSA position. Hopefully we’ll see you at our Practitioner Days to discuss the changes from your perspective too.

Will students still get targeted assistance?

Even though there might be smaller provision from government, we are keen to ensure students still get targeted assistance in terms of technology and 'non medical helpers' (NMH), which includes support assistants, note takers and mentors.

We know students with a physical disability or, for example autistic students, may need lots of support to move around the campus or take notes during lectures and would really struggle without this NMH provision. The good news is that we’re seeing some flexibility around this from DSA government officials.

For example, where guidelines initially stated that note takers would need to be provided by the university, they have been revised (at the beginning of April) to state that note takers will now be approved for students with sensory impairments, i.e. hearing/vision. We will keep putting pressure in this area, where needed, to support students.

Share and support

Changes and revisions are happening quickly. We hope to see you at the Practitioner Days where we can share our respective knowledge.

Our next Practitioner Days are in June and July. Book your free place now.

Boyzone's Shane Lynch supports our DSA Claim It! campaign. See more here.