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How and where to find disability support

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With the help of the Head of Disability Services at the University of Sunderland, Ben Hodgson, we explore how and where students with disabilities can find help.

At the University of Sunderland, the Disability Support Team (DST) provide information, support, and guidance to students with disabilities, mental health difficulties, specific learning differences (such as Dyslexia), Autism Spectrum conditions and long-term medical conditions.

Ben says: "We work with and try to engage with as many disabled students as we can before they actually start their studies. Normally, we meet with students and with their permission, formulate what we call a Student Support Plan, which is an overview of the student’s condition and how that might impact their studies in key areas. We work with them on an ongoing basis during their studies so once they come and register with us, we are able to work with them until they graduate."

"Many students contact a Disability Support Adviser before they actually arrive at University. This is useful because it allows plenty of time to discuss, assess needs and plan their support. Any applicant that declares a disability through the admissions process is invited to have a meeting with us and to meet the team. It’s much better if we can set up support before students start their studies. It’s a big thing coming to university, a big change, very challenging and stressful. Generally, we find it’s much better to have support in place and ready to go, because that transition can be difficult." Ben explains.

For eligible disabled students, there is the potential for additional funding to be available via Student Finance England. You can apply for Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSA) if you live in England, are classed as a Home student and have a disability that affects your ability to study, such as a:

  • learning difficulty, for example, dyslexia or ADHD
  • mental health condition like anxiety or depression
  • physical disability, for example, if you’re partially sighted or have to use crutches
  • long-term health condition such as cancer, chronic heart disease or HIV

The Disability Services Team can also provide assessments for Disabled Students Allowance via the North East Regional Assessment Centre (NERAC).

You must also be an undergraduate or postgraduate student (including at the Open University or studying distance learning), qualify for financial support from Student Finance England and be studying on a course that lasts at least a year.

"DSA is a fund that is available for home students in addition to what the University provide. DSA can pay for additional specialist equipment, typically, things like assistive software, technology and ergonomic equipment. It also helps to pay for specialist support for those students that are eligible, for example, 1:1 Specialist Study Skills for autistic students and students with a Specific Learning Difference (eg Dyslexia or Dyspraxia). Specialist Mentoring is available for students on the autism spectrum and/or those who may have a mental health condition. DSA can also help pay for ergonomic assessments of a workspace if, for example, somebody needs their desk or seating configured in a certain way." Ben explains.

Open Day Learning and Support Team
Ben talking to a prospective student and her family during an Open Day

Unfortunately, you can't get DSA from Student Finance England if you're an EU student, eligible for NHS Disabled Student's Allowances, or getting equivalent support from another funding source, like your university or a social work bursary. 

How much and what you get depends on your individual needs and not your household income.

A recent government study found that 42% of disabled students who knew about DSA prior to applying agreed that this influenced their decision to go into higher education. Since most disabled students are not aware that there is targeted funding available, should more be done to make them aware of that?

"The information that we send to applicants via the admissions’ process flags up DSA to them as well. Applicants get information about my team and what we do, but I also put in a lot of information about DSA with the link to the website and how to apply. Our partner colleges and liaison officers know about DSA so they should also be making students aware of what is available and how to apply. "

You can contact the Disability Support Team by telephone on +44 (0)191 515 2952, send an email to disability.support@sunderland.ac.uk or by coming to Student Support at Edinburgh Building, Level 1, City Campus. If you use The Gateway lift, press E1 to get to their floor.

Read more about the Disability Support Team or go directly to information on applying for Disability Support Allowance. You can also contact and follow the team on Instagram @disabilitysupportteam

You can also find the wider Student Suoport Services on Twitter @SupportUoS

Published: 20 May 2021