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Freshers’ week is over and, now that classes are starting and the nights are drawing in, new University students are getting into the swing of their new lives.

640px-Beer_taps by Bruno Girin

Starting university is a time that can be simultaneously exciting and terrifying. Concerns about making new friends, money and succeeding academically are matched by the enjoyment of discovering a new town or city, going out whenever you please, and taking an important step towards independence.

For disabled students, there is more to consider. On top of the usual concerns that all students have, disabled students may be anxious about whether they will get the support they need to complete their studies, how accessible their new home and campus will be, and whether they will experience stigma or discrimination.

On Twitter, I asked current and former disabled students what advice they would give to a new disabled student, embarking on a university course this year. Here is some of what they said:

So, what help and support is available for disabled students? And what rights do you have? We’re going to address some of these questions now.

Should I tell my Uni that I’m disabled?

512px-5th_Floor_Lecture_HallMost universities now have services specifically for students who are disabled, dyslexic, or who have mental health problems. Registering with these services is a crucial step towards getting the support you may need. They have access to resources and they also know what help is available, so they may even be able to suggest things you haven’t thought of.

What support is available?

This varies a lot, depending on the resources and expertise available, an individual person’s health condition or impairment, and the subject somebody is studying (for example, an art student would need different support to an engineering student). However, the support you are offered could include specialist equipment, extra time in exams, a support worker to take notes during classes, or occasional leeway with deadlines.

What about financial support for disabled students?

Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) has been in the news recently, after plans to cut it were announced and later delayed. DSA is an important benefit because being disabled is so expensive, and because it provides equipment and assistance that can make the difference between a disabled student succeeding or failing. In fact, research has shown that disabled students with support from DSA are more likely to achieve a first-class honours degree.

DSA can be used to fund:

  • special equipment such as laptops, speech recognition software or voice recorders
  • people to take notes on lectures, scribe for students or proofread students’ work, called ‘non-medical helpers’
  • travel expenses.

This video explains how it works:

DSA does not need to be paid back, and the earlier you apply, the better.

For more detailed information about your own situation and your particular University, try to find the department that's dedicated to supporting and empowering disabled students (your students' union should know). Circumstances differ, but you have the right to reasonable accommodations and to not experience disablist discrimination. Royal Holloway University has produced an information booklet for disabled students, full of useful facts and advice, which is a good place to start.

How are you getting on as a disabled student at University? Let us know on Twitter or on our Facebook Page!

Follow or ‘like’ us, too, to make sure you don’t miss any future blog posts we write!

(Image credits: Bruno Girin and Xbxg32000)