Five reasons students don't claim DSA funding

Find out more about Disabled Students' Allowances

Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSAs) can pay for extra help when you’re on a UK higher education course. If you’re eligible it can be worth thousands of pounds to cover the cost of specialist hardware and software, as well as various learning support such as having a personal helper in lectures, extra time in exams or travelling expenses. 

You don’t have to be registered disabled to claim

DSAs can support students with an impairment or condition which affects their ability to complete their studies. It covers all sorts of conditions, from ADHD and dyslexia to Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Migraines and Tinnitus, you can claim it any time on your course and you don’t have to pay it back - it’s a grant not a loan.

DSAs can make the difference between success and failure in higher education, so why do figures from 2013/14 suggest that at least 50% of the people who are eligible for DSAs don’t claim?

"I’ve never heard of them"

Many people don’t know what DSAs are, who is eligible or how to claim. Ideally you’ll hear about them during your University application process, or from advisers in your school or college, but many of them haven't heard of it eiether, or don't realise who can claim, so many people who are eligible just don’t know it’s there. 

“But I’m not disabled..."

Some people may think you need to be in a wheelchair to be disabled, or they don’t realise that DSAs can cover conditions such as dyslexia or IBS. They don’t think of themself as disabled, so don’t connect with the name.

"Other people are more deserving than me"

Some may feel that other people are far more deserving, so don’t claim. However the support available is not a set/guaranteed amount for each person, and is tailored to the individual

“How is a laptop or extra gadgets going to help me?"

DSAs often fund computer equipment or software, but for many people it isn't the equipment that makes the big difference. Someone with dyslexia may benefit from extra time in exams, or someone with a chronic back condition may need small changes to their timetable, or permission to avoid carrying heavy books around. The extra support and changes to your study patterns can have a huge impact on your ability to achieve your full potential.

"I’m too embarrassed to ask for help"

Many people will worry that asking for DSAs will reveal a personal issue they want to keep to themselves. The process for DSA is entirely confidential and no personal details need to be revealed to the University if you do not wish.

Asking for help can be tough, or seen as sign of weakness. It may mean that you have to admit to difficulties that have dogged you for many years. The big plus is that if you get DSAs you will finally get the extra help you need and can really begin to shine.

What next?

Find out more on our site about who is eligible and how to apply 

Upgrade Your World with My Computer My Way

AbilityNet is using a grant from Microsoft to upgrade our free and popular accessibility tool My Computer My Way. The new version will make it easier than ever to find details of the accessibility settings and other adjustments that can change the lives of disabled people. It will include details of the new Windows 10 operating system and provide more dynamic content, enhanced functionality and better usability.

Adjust Your Computer. Change Your LifeMy Computer My Way is an online tool that provides free information and support for disabled people on how to use their computers, laptops and smartphones. In the last 12 monthsit has been used by almost half a million people worldwide with advice and guidance on the built-in accessibility options offered by Windows and other operating systems.

Robin Christopherson, Head of Digital Inclusion at AbilityNet said:

"Last year over 200,000 Windows 7 and 8 users accessed My Computer My Way guides on topics such as how to use their keyboard to control their mouse pointer, or how to make it appear larger on the screen. These are among our most frequently asked questions at AbilityNet and our job is to make sure that disabled people can find out how to use their computer in a way that works for them.”

Microsoft is promoting AbilityNet's work as part of its UpgradeYourWorld initiative#UpgradeYourWorld

As part of the #upgradeyourworld campaign, AbilityNet has been awarded a grant of £30K by Microsoft to upgrade the My Computer My Way portal to support the accessibility features in Windows 10. Robin went on to say:

"This generous support not only allows us to expand the reach of My Computer My Way to include the exciting new features in Windows 10, but also enables us to update information across all areas (including Windows Mobile, Android, iOS and Mac) and to enhance and improve the design and overall user-experience no matter what device or screen size they use."

My Computer My Way was originally developed ten years ago with the support of Microsoft to provide older and disabled people with easy to follow instructions on how to make their computers easier to use.

Try it now at

How can disabled people get the most from their technology?

Technology comes in all shapes and sizesComputers and the internet are possibly two of the greatest inventions of our time. They have transformed our daily lives, at home, at work and now even when we are on the move. For disabled people being able to get online opens up a world of possibilities for completing everyday tasks, enjoying games or films, working and connecting with friends and family.

Not everyone is online yet, and not everyone owns a computer or mobile device, though the rate of ownership is growing. According to Ofcom 66% of adults in the UK own a smartphone and 80% of adults have fixed or mobile broadband. Whether you are one of the majority of “connected” adults or not, not everyone knows how to use them to best effect.

Where's the instruction manual?

Most tablet devices don’t even come with an instruction manual, they are meant to be intuitive to use. Older and disabled people can find it difficult to know where to start. To get your device to accommodate your specific access requirements you have to know where to find the settings, what to choose and which apps might help. Giving people the confidence, skills and training to use their computer is an important part of what we do everyday.

Getting up-skilled for IT at home

Maxine has developed her IT skills and is now writing a recipe bookMaxine Turkington lost most of her sight some 30 years ago due to a type of inherited macular dystrophy. 

After her husband died she called in AbilityNet’s IT Can Help team to come to her home so she could develop the IT skills she needed to live independently.

Maxine said:  “I was very reliant on Syd for everything computer related, but with my IT Can Help volunteer, Paul, I have discovered a whole new world.”

Independence through voice recognition

Northumberland-based Belinda Sidebotham is a tetraplegic – the result of a motorbike accident 35 years ago when she was only 17 years old.  She is paralysed from the chest down, uses an electric wheelchair and has only very limited use of her arms. 

When she first met Fred Godfrey, her IT Can Help volunteer in 2009, she was using her computer courtesy of a stick attached to her hand with a Velcro band – a device which had been created for her all those years ago in the Spinal Unit.  Typing a short email could take up to half an hour and was not only difficult but also uncomfortable.

Fred introduced Belinda to voice recognition (VR) technology via Dragon Naturally Speaking software and she has never looked back. 

Our IT Can Help volunteers visit disabled people in their homes across the UK and Northern Ireland and help people like Maxine and Belinda to get the most out of technology.

Upgrading My Computer My Way

Adjust Your Computer. Change Your Life.Many disabled people are also happy to search online for information on accessibility and usability.

Ten years ago AbilityNet launched My Computer My Way, a comprehensive guide on how to set up your computer or device the way you need it to work for you. My Computer My Way provides free advice on how to use the accessibility features that are built into your desktop PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone.

It is now one of our most popular products - almost half a million people from all around the world have used it to help make adjustments in the past year.

Thank you Microsoft

The great news is that we’re going to be rolling out a comprehensive update of My Computer My Way in the coming months to improve functionality and usability. As part of the #upgradeyourworld campaign Microsoft has chosen 5 charity partners to receive a grant of £30K to support the transition to Windows 10.

We’re delighted to have been chosen as one of those partners and we’re planning to use the money to upgrade My Computer My Way so that it covers the full range of features that make Windows 10 the most customisable version of Windows yet, as well as every one of the excellent accessibility features built into Windows 10 that continue to make it the powerful and empowering platform of choice for disabled users the world over.

How AbilityNet can help

Why Autoplay is an accessibility issue

Autoplay hit the headlines recently when a video showing the deaths of two journalists was seen by people scrolling through their Facebook and Twitter feeds. The video automatically started playing as the posts loaded and showed graphic images which shocked and horrified many people.

News coverage across the web revealed the problems created by Autoplay, which is an increasingly common ingredient of video-based advertising. For people with disabilities, however, autoplay content is not only irritating but can be a real barrier to access.

What is Autoplay?

Twitter messages underlined people's distress at seeing the videos

Anyone that has been online recently will have experienced Autoplay, whether on Facebook, YouTube or Twitter, or on any of the many sites that rely heavily on advertising revenue. As well as displaying unwanted content it can suck your battery life and gobble up your data allowance, and it is time-consuming and frustrating to click away all the different types of adverts, or search for the ‘skip this ad’.

Why is it an accessibility issue?

Videos and Flash animations that automatically start on a website can be frustrating and even distressing for users with cognitive impairments, impeding their ability to concentrate when reading the content they’re actually interested in.

For those with photosensitive Epilepsy, videos or animations can sometimes trigger a seizure or increase the risk of a seizure occurring. Significant flashing or flickering between the range of 2-55Hz (two to fifty-five times a second) must be avoided.

If you are blind or visually impaired and using screen-reading (text to speech) software on your device, autoplaying animations or video that includes music or audio makes some web pages all but impossible to access.

This is because the audio that automatically starts playing completely obscures the speech of the screen reader. This means that the blind user can’t hear the screen reader and therefore they can’t navigate to the ‘Stop’ button (if there is one) to stop the noise.

All content needs an off switch

Often all they can do is wait for a long enough pause in the audio so they can stop it. More often, however, they aren’t able to find the ‘off switch’ so just give up and navigate away from the page in frustration or disgust.

Autoplay does have some use-cases. Most users want Youtube videos to start playing automatically, for example, because that is the content they have chosen. But, as with all things, accessibility needs to be both considered and factored into to the design and delivery of all digital content.

Top tips for accessible Autoplay

  • If you must have autoplaying ads on your web pages then make them move through one or two cycles of the animation and then pause.
  • Provide a ‘Play’ button in case people then want to watch it again. Most such ads are delivered using Flash and it is easy to oblige in this way by providing suitable controls built into the Flash player.
  • Avoid combining audio with animations unless absolutely necessary.
  • With videos avoid autoplay if you can and, if you must, code it so that hitting the ‘Esc’ key will stop it playing.
  • If you need to include audio in your video try to make it quiet and inobtrusive or else provide sufficient pauses in the audio to help blind users find the ‘Stop’ button. Oh, and provide a ‘Stop’ button too.

The tide of opinion is turning against ads in general, and autoplaying ads in particular, so keep your visitors happy and your disabled visitors delighted by ditching the autoplay and embracing accessibility and good digital design instead.

How can DSAs help students with dyslexia?

AbilityNet’s experts deliver over 1,000 assessments for disabled students every year and by far the most frequent assessment is for a student with a specific learning difficultly such as dyslexia. . It is estimated that up to 1 in 10 people in the UK have some degree of dyslexia, but the good news is that there is a lot of help available to ensure that students can complete their studies successfully.

Am I eligible for DSAs?

Our Claim It Campaign provides more information about DSA Any UK student applying to or attending university with a disability or Specific Learning Difficulty such as Dyslexia, could be eligible for Disabled Students’ Allowances or DSAs Students with Dyslexia must have a post-16 formal dyslexia diagnostic assessment, overseen by a Dyslexia Specialist or Educational Psychologist.

The accompanying report, which is used as proof of dyslexia, is then sent off to a Funding Body with an application form. A Needs Assessment follows, where students can discuss their support with a trained Needs Assessor.

Students should apply for DSAs as soon as they can before their course starts. It takes, on average, just over 10 weeks from registering for DSAs to receiving support and they do not have to wait until their place has been confirmed.

How can DSAs help?

Students can receive equipment such as a laptop (subject to £200 contribution), dictaphone, printer and scanner. Assistive technology software and speech to text editors may be provided to facilitate essay writing. There is additional support available such as a study support tutor or non-medical helper, along with a general allowance for additional printing and photocopying needs. These, and many other support strategies are discussed during a Needs Assessment, to determine the most suitable and effective strategies for the student.
Reasonable adjustments may also be recommended such as:

  • Extra time in examinations
  • Departmental and subject specific support recommendations
  • Extensions for course work

For Avril*, a BSc Adult Nursing student at UWE, the dyslexia-learning support she received transformed “the most daunting challenge” she had faced into “the greatest achievement” of her life.

“What is so great is that I can now work in real time. The software helps me to write reports and proof read my own work and I am now definitely reading more. I would say to anyone who is dyslexic and studying at university or studying for a degree with the OU – don’t waste the fantastic opportunity to claim DSA. I am so glad that I didn’t.”

* Names have been changed to protect confidentiality 

What next?

Find out more about DSAs and who is eligible on our website

Boyzone's Shane urges students to claim extra funding

Boyzone's Shane Lynch is urging UK higher education students to check whether they are eligible for extra funding as part of AbilityNet's DSA Claim It Campaign. Shane has described his experience of living with dyslexia and the impact it has made on his life - as well as the amazing sense of relief he felt when he was finally diagnosed.

Many students live with conditions and impairments that limit their abilities, but don't realise that they can claim Disabled Students' Allowances to cover the cost of specialist hardware, software and study support, including travel expenses.

AbilityNet's CEO Nigel Lewis explained that figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency suggest that as many as half of eligible students did not claim DSAs in 2013/14:

"Disabled Students' Allowances are a lifeline for many students, even if they don't think of themselves as disabled. They can pay for specialist software and hardware as well as extra learning support to ensure that students complete their studies successfully - our DSA Claim It Campaign aims to make sure that everyone who is eligible gets the help they need."

"One big problem could be that people just don't know that it exists. Many parents, teachers and students still don’t know that students with a disability such as dyslexia are eligible for DSAs at university or college, or they don't realise that DSAs are a direct grant that doesn’t have to be paid back.”

Too embarrassed?

"It could also be that people are too embarrassed to ask for extra help, or think it will count against them. That's why it's great having Shane's support for our campaign, as he knows the difficulties that conditions such as dyslexia can bring and can show how much can be gained when you ask for help."

DSAs have been a vital part of helping disabled people achieve success in higher education for many years, meeting the cost of extra learning support, specialist software and hardware and even travel expenses. Students with hearing impairments, visual impairments and mobility impairments are eligible for DSA, as are students with a learning difficulty such as dyslexia, mental health conditions such as depression and health conditions such as diabetes.

Who is eligible for DSAs?

As Nigel explains there is no specific list of conditions that are eligible, and many people don't know they can apply:

"AbilityNet has a specialist DSA service that assesses students once they have been told they can get the grant. In the past year we've helped people with conditions such as ADHD, Anxiety, Aspergers, Autism, Chronic Fatigue, Depression, Diabetes, Dyslexia and many more. There is no one size fits all solution - our experts review the person's study needs and identify personalised solutions."

"We're also concerned that people think that DSAs have been stopped. there is a lot of uncertainty about their future but for the time being they are available and people should find out whether they are eligible."

Abbie C* is a first year student who received DSAs and passed on her advice:

“Get it. It's worth it and will help you throughout your studies. You shouldn't worry about disclosing your disability or learning difficulty because by doing so, you'll get all the support you can possibly think of and makes your experience at university a lot more fulfilling."

Find out more about DSAs

Check our DSA pages for more information about who is eligible and how to claim.

*Abbie asked for her identity to be kept confidential.

Visual impairment and computing - common questions

Many people who contact AbilityNet describe themselves as “visually impaired” but that term can describe a lot of different conditions. You could have a condition such as macular degeneration, you could have a genetic condition or you might have had an accident in the past which has affected your life. 

AbilityNet helps people with a range of visual ImpairmentsVisual impairment can affect your eyesight in so many ways. The good thing is that technology can certainly help you in your work.

According to Fight for Sight there are over 2 million people living with visual impairment in the UK and 360,000 of those would describe themselves as being registered blind. However a lot of people have difficulties with their sight, but would not describe themselves as being "visually impaired".  Famous people who are visually impaired include UK politician David Blunkett (picture below) and soul singer Stevie Wonder.

Common questions about visual impairment and technology

My Dad is struggling to distinguish between different colours on the computer. Can these colours be changed?

They certainly can, and it is a fairly simple process. We have a very easy step by step guide at which can help. By trial and error you ought to be able to find colours that are easier for you Dad to see.

I’m 27 and my sight is getting worse.  I use an IPhone. Can I still use it if I lose my sight?

Yes you can! Every Apple device is now built in with some very nice accessibility options.  One of them is called Voice Over and is a screen reader.  So it will read emails, documents and web pages and allow you to stay connected. Another good piece of software is called Siri and this will allow you to use your voice. Here are a few commands:

“Send a message to Kerry on her mobile saying ‘I am running late'”

“What’s Justin’s address?”

“Call my mother on her work phone”


My gran is 91 and her sight isn’t that good. She uses a magnifying glass to read mail. Is there something similar that she can use on a computer?

There is a magnifier which is built into both Macintosh and Windows computers. This ought to help you if you have some slight difficulties, if you have a requirement for greater levels of magnification you might want to consider some paid for software which can also feature “screen reading” technology. She might also benefit from a larger keyboard with high-visibility key tops. Surprisingly if you have a tablet or smartphone you can also magnify the screen.

Case study; Changing font size and colours

John rang us to ask for some advice for his husband William. He's already looked at our factsheet on visual impairment.  William is in his 60’s and is starting to struggle with using his technology. He's had an accident and his sight isn't as good as it was but he still has some vision in one eye. We had a chat with them and have come up with some ideas that might make it easier to use the computer. These include changing the font size, and also changing the colours on the screen to make it that little bit easier for William to see.

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

  • We have a range of factsheets which talk in detail about technology that might help you, which can be downloaded for free. You may find our factsheets about visual impairment useful.
  • 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 IT Can Help 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.
  • My Computer My Way. A free interactive guide to all the accessibility features built into current desktops, laptops, tables and smartphones.

Surviving a stroke and learning to type again...

Emma is 26 and had a stroke in 2014Our focus this month is how computers can be adapted to help people who have survived a Stroke and so we met up with Emma, who is 26, lives in Hertfordshire and works for the Scout Association in the International team. In May 2014, a few days after an evening of fun on the climbing wall with the Cub pack she leads, Emma collapsed in the car park at work. Fortunately a trained first aider recognized that her symptoms may be that of a stroke and so Emma got the help she needed incredibly quickly, which helped save her life.

How has stroke affected you?

My Stroke was a left side ischemic stroke and initially, I lost my speech and all movement down my right hand side. I was able (with the help of hospital and rehab staff) to regain my speech, (though I still forget words or stumble over my words) learn to walk again and use my right hand. Now, exactly 12 months on, I still have weakness in my right hand, I find it difficult to write, type and text. This is due to finding it challenging to isolate the fingers on my right hand.

What tasks do you find difficult now on the computer and how has it affected your ability to use the computer?

My speech pattern has changed and this makes it difficult to use voice recognition software. The main challenge I have on a daily basis is the speed I type (it's much slower and one handed!) and I can't double click on the mouse with my right hand, so I end up using two hands!

Do you find your computer makes day to day living easier for you?

Yes. I'd be lost without my smart phone and iPad!

How can we help?

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 which talk in detail about technology that might help you, which can be downloaded for free. You may find our factsheets about voice recognition and keyboard alternatives useful.
  • My Computer My Way. A free interactive guide to all the accessibility features built into current desktops, laptops, tables and smartphones.


Vote for Robin Christopherson and AbilityNet in the DL100 Awards

Robin Christopherson is Head of Digital Inclusion at AbilityNetAbilityNet and our Head of Digital Inclusion, Robin Christopherson, have been nominated in separate categories for a prestigious digital inclusion Award. The UK Digital Leaders 100 honours the highest digital achievements from across the UK’s public, private and non-profit sectors, celebrating individuals and organisations who are using digital to transform the UK’s public services and its social and economic opportunities. There is now a public vote to decide the winners across 10 categories.

AbilityNet Chairman, Dr Michael R Taylor, said:

"Technology can be both a blessing and a curse, but for disabled people it makes it possible to work, study, enjoy friends and family, as well as fulfilling their true potential. It's wonderful for AbilityNet and Robin to be recognised in this way, and reflects just how much can be achieved with digital technology."

Robin is a huge champion of digital inclusion, and his practical, personal approach influences policy-makers, developers, designers, academics, businesses and many other charities. Drawing on his personal experiences of dealing with visual impairment, Robin combines cutting edge technical knowledge with practical stories - with a dash of wit that never fails to hold his audience entranced.

As Michael says,

"Few people leave the room with a dry eye, yet everyone leaves with a much better understanding of how technology can be used to help others."

"My 25 year old son, himself a wheelchair user, was initially helped by AbilityNet way back in the late 1990s. Their expert assessors were able to recommend technology that enabled him to attend university, to achieve BA and MA degrees and to fulfill his dream of becoming a journalist. 

Digital Leaders 100"Over the 6 years that I have been Chairman of AbilityNet, Robin Christopherson has been an amazing ambassador for our work. His legendary talks at conferences and community events offer powerful insights into how new technologies can help disabled people. To me, Robin has always shown genuine leadership in the use of digital technology and for him to receive a Digital Leaders 100 award would be recognition of his skills, passion and commitment as a genuine Digital Leader.

"I'm sure many of you will have already cast a vote, but for anyone who hasn't yet please do vote for Robin - and AbilityNet."

You can cast your vote until the end of May by going to

Web hosting for just 1p - and donate the difference to AbilityNet

LCN is offering web hosting for 1p - donate the difference to AbilityNetLeading UK web hosting company, has launched a 1p web hosting campaign to raise £15,000 for AbilityNet. is offering a fully-featured web hosting package that usually costs £50 for just a penny and encouraging customers to donate the savings they make to AbilityNet. has also donated £1,500 to kick off the campaign and aims to reach a donation target of £15,000 with the support of its customers.

As well as the 1p web hosting offer has an ongoing policy of offering free domain names and web hosting to any UK registered charity. 

Nigel Lewis, AbilityNet CEO, said:

“We’re delighted to partner with The help they offer UK charities is something which has a very positive impact on non-profit organisations, particularly at a time where many of these organisations are taking a greater focus towards using digital technology to spread their message”.

What you get for 1p - wordpress, free web deisgn software and freiendly supportMark Boost, Managing Director, said:

“AbilityNet makes a tremendous difference in the lives of disabled people, their family and friends, their employers and other people who care for them is. We are very proud to contribute to this incredible charity and give our customers an opportunity to do the same. Through this, the company has provided free domain names and web hosting to almost 500 UK charities to date and hopes the support for AbilityNet will increase awareness of the free charity hosting offer.”

What you get for 1p

  • One-click WordPress, free web design software and friendly UK based support

  • Business class web and email hosting

Your donation to AbilityNet

Anything you donate to AbilityNet will support our work with disabled people.