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Hi, I am Melanie, ask me questions about being a disabled student now

melaniethorleymelaniethorley Member Posts: 138 Pioneering
edited January 2018 in Education and learning

Hello, my name is Melanie and I am a disability outreach officer for a university. My work involves preparing disabled (includes dyslexia and autism spectrums; long term health conditions; and mental health difficulties) students with their transition from school or college into university. University can be a scary thought for the majority of students and disabled students can prepare for the realities of higher education if they are given realistic information. I can answer questions such as :

What are the Disabled Students Allowances (DSA)?

When should I apply for DSA?

What sort of support can I get at university?

Should I tell the university about me disability?

Can I have extra time in exams?


  • jobshunt567jobshunt567 Member Posts: 3 Listener
    hi there my name is brad and i am 16 years old i also have dyspraxia i am seeking jobs but when i ask for them no jobs will accept me i wonder is that because of my dyspraxia 
  • melaniethorleymelaniethorley Member Posts: 138 Pioneering
    Hi Brad and thanks for the question. You would be better asking an employment advisor rather than me as I only know about accessing college and university. I do know that it is not legal to give somebody a job because they have dyspraxia.
  • MaiaB123MaiaB123 Member Posts: 6 Listener
    Hello Melanie, my daughter recently started college, it's a post 16 placement at an Independent specialist college for the visually impaired, my daughter is sight, hearing and touch impaired, she will be 17 in April, is she entitled to DSA and can she get extra time in exams?  a consultant recommended the extra time for exams, but it has been ignored thus far.  Thank you. 
  • melaniethorleymelaniethorley Member Posts: 138 Pioneering
    Good afternoon Maia and thank you for your query. The DSA is only for higher education courses recognised by Student Finanace England (SFE). However, if a consultant has recommended extra time in exams, the college is being churlish by not providing this. You might want to explain to the staff that extra time in your daughter's exams is likely to produce better grades, and therefore making the college look successful. If she is going onto higher education in 18 months, it would be a good idea to start looking now. Let me know if I can help further and good luck in getting this sorted.
  • MaiaB123MaiaB123 Member Posts: 6 Listener
    Thank you Melanie :-) We're assuming that she will attend the same VI college, as you can attend until 25.  However our LA might object and try to put the blocks in regarding this.  We have a place currently until she is 19, but she is playing catch up.  She was never taught in a way she could learn until September last year.  Kind regards, Maia.
  • melaniethorleymelaniethorley Member Posts: 138 Pioneering

    Good afternoon Maia and apologies for the delay in replying. It would be cruel for the LA to send her elsewhere, especially as she has only been given the opportunity to learn since last Septmber. I hope it all goes well. in the meantime, she can join our transition scheme (even though she might not be going anywhere) which prepares disabled students for HE. More info and the link can be found at

    Best wishes


  • DominiqueDominique Member Posts: 16 Connected
    Hi Melanie, please can you tell me how long it takes for your DSA assessor to visit from when you've applied, and from then how long does it take to come through? 
    • Thanks, Dominique
  • melaniethorleymelaniethorley Member Posts: 138 Pioneering

    Good morning Dominique. I think it depends on where you live and availability of assessors. I have copied the link to the needs assessors. If you contact them, they should be able to give you an estimate.

    hope this helps


  • DasiydoDasiydo Member Posts: 94 Courageous
     I don't think you can help I think return back to college but as well dyspraxia I now half deaf I want free Crouse I fed up paid active I doing I paid £58 for 2 hours do cooking which I enjoyed and my computer was £2.25 then lost AOl connect and now £8.70 plus 50p for card. I study brush up English Crouse at Cannock college but in ten week Cannock college close down pass English assistant but fail the exam. I be back to Stafford college Stafford libbary and new wolerhamption university in Stafford if run English Crouse level 2 and all said no Now feeling lost could be lose my ESA if don't find volunteering job or Crouse. Have find some Staffordshire with Animals but it farm recovery for mealth health only promble I bully because of half deaf and can't get rid of this person.
  • DasiydoDasiydo Member Posts: 94 Courageous
    If do return back to college would be able have etex time in Exam would be able get support for college?
  • melaniethorleymelaniethorley Member Posts: 138 Pioneering

    Good morning Daisy. It does sound like you are having a difficult time. I would suggest you make an appointment at your local JobCentrePlus - they have advisors for disabled people and can assist with sourcing courses or training.  They may be able to source free courses as well, or can sort out funding with you.

    You could also try and see the SENCO or Additional Learning Support people at your local college for their advice

    Also, you need to let the organisers who sorted out your placement with the animals - they would not like to hear you have been bullied, especially as the place is for people with mental health difficulties.

    I hope this helps


  • DasiydoDasiydo Member Posts: 94 Courageous
    Thanks you sorry for not get back to you but I had cold and I had cannel the holiday
  • ChuppachupsChuppachups Member Posts: 10 Connected
    Hi Melanie
    Can I please ask for some advice?
  • melaniethorleymelaniethorley Member Posts: 138 Pioneering
    Of course Chuppachups - Hopefully I can point you in the right direction

  • jordankjordank Member Posts: 1 Listener
    Hi, I have mental health problems and I am on ESA, pip, housing benefit and council tax support. I am about to start college and looking for financial advice on tuition fees and day to day costs? Thank you. 
  • melaniethorleymelaniethorley Member Posts: 138 Pioneering
    Good morning @Jordank and thank you for your query. there will be finance people at the college and your local council. You might also find Mind, or a similar organisation, can point you in the right direction. And as always, scope and DisabilityRightsUK have information on this. Good luck in your studies - what subject will you be studying?
  • maturestudentmaturestudent Member Posts: 2 Listener

    I am currently in receipt of income based ESA and due to start open university in October. 
    Would you be able to tell me if the maintenance loan, tuition fee loan and welsh assembly grant are classed as income? How much is classed as income?
    Thank you in advance 
  • Joanne_ScopeJoanne_Scope Scope helpline, Scope adviser Posts: 190 Pioneering
    Hi @maturestudent,
    Full-time Students are entitled to claim Income Related ESA if they are getting Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payment. Full time education is regarded as 12 hours per week.
    The way loans, grants or bursaries affect IR ESA and things such as Housing Benefit depends on whether the income is intended for living costs or course costs.
    Money intended to cover course costs is generally disregarded.
    For full time students, maintenance grants are treated as income although amounts for travel and books can be disregarded. If you are entitled to a loan this can be counted as income whether you actually take it or not.
    I am not sure how grants from the Welsh assembly would be treated.
    Disability Rights UK  have a disabled students helpline and they may be able to give you more detailed information. The Open University also have support for disabled students.
    I hope that this information is useful but please get back in touch if we can be of any further help.
  • maturestudentmaturestudent Member Posts: 2 Listener
  • ZaraRZaraR Member Posts: 3 Listener
    Hi. I would like to retain at the age of 35 but cannot seem to find any funding sources to help me. I receive PIP
  • Joanne_ScopeJoanne_Scope Scope helpline, Scope adviser Posts: 190 Pioneering
    Hi @ZaraR,

    You might find the link to Disability Rights UK in the post above useful.
    We also have some information about work and careers on the Scope website.

    We also have services designed to help people get the support they need to get back into employment. They may be able to give you some ideas about funding sources.

    It might also be worth speaking to your local Job Centre Plus.

    If you are on benefits and you are considering training or going to work part time then you need to be aware of how that might affect your benefits. PIP would not be affected but ESA or UC would be.

    If you would like to talk this through with someone we have a free helpline that is open 8am-8pm Monday to Friday and 8am to 6pm Saturday and Sunday. Our advisers should be able to give you information about how your benefits could be affected.

    I hope this is useful and you find the support you are looking for :)

  • AmandaandJoAmandaandJo Member Posts: 2 Listener
    Hi Melanie, I am an OU student studying sociology, but the problem is - I started studying in Feb 2019, that module finished in September 2019, I started another in oct 19, which runs to oct 2020. I have no student finance for this year at all until then. I am a disabled student as well. I need some kind of finance for this year if you could possibly help, thanks ever so much.
  • melaniethorleymelaniethorley Member Posts: 138 Pioneering

    Hi Amanda and thank you for your message. You should be receiving four years funding for full time courses and up to six years for pert-time courses. There are also a number of charities and organisations which  provide bursaries for disabled students. You could look here:

    good luck

  • AmandaandJoAmandaandJo Member Posts: 2 Listener
    Yes, I am part time, but will be full time. The funding goes from funding year to funding year, not the 3 or 6 years you are on the degree course for, and then you choose different modules for every year. I have looked at the burseries etc but can't find anything that helps my predicament, they are mostly for the uni they are based in. . I had funding from February until October 2019. But I have no funding for 2020 until October because they say I have had it already. But I haven't, because that was 120 credits for 2018/19. It leaves me with nothing from December 2019 to October 2020. All ou could offer me was a bit of my Internet costs back and ink, but I wanted student funding. 
  • JenCoJenCo Member Posts: 122 Pioneering
    edited March 2020
    Hi @melaniethorley, do you have any posts about options for going back to education for mature students? 

    I'm 32, hard of hearing, BAHA user. I want to study for a Computer Science or Computer-Human Interaction MSc but have no idea how to start. Firmly believe accessible software can improve and save lives. Now I just have to go learn enough to prove it :)
  • divine10divine10 Member Posts: 2 Listener
  • melaniethorleymelaniethorley Member Posts: 138 Pioneering
    Good morning @divine10 and thank you for the message. Funding is very complicated, and unfortunately I cannot keep up with the different rules and regulations. The good news is that my lovely colleagues at Disability Rights UK will know the answer. They also have a helpline but here is the link to their factsheets and guides:

    Good luck with your studies and you are very welcome to access our Facebook page:
    (1) University of Greenwich-STAART | Facebook

  • 66Mustang66Mustang Community Co-Production Group Posts: 5,038 Disability Gamechanger

    I have a few questions about going to university as a mature student. I have autism and a few other issues.

    Academically I am up for doing a degree - it is the logistics around university life that has stopped me from being able to do it so far. Things like getting there, living independently away from home, going to lectures, social life etc.

    My first question is that I have a major university city with a lot of universities that is close to where I live. It would be ideal if I could study there because it would eliminate the biggest obstacle which is the need to stay away from home - I could travel there from home every day. Unfortunately, the city in question is Cambridge which is rather hard to get in to!!! My question is would they take into account my disability and struggles with living independently away from home and possibly give me a better chance at being able to study there, seeing as though it would make life much much easier?

    My second question is to do with finance for disabled students. I have been told that disabled students quite rightly are expected to pay for what other students have to pay for but that they can get finance for any additional cost that they incur due to disability. An example of this is with accommodation if I have to live somewhere away from home - I would be unable to live in shared accommodation and was told that I could live somewhere on my own - I’d have to pay the going rate for shared accommodation and could claim the additional extra cost of living somewhere of my own back. Is this true?

    My third question is about obsessive thoughts and being unable to sit in an exam hall with other students. Is it possible to take exams on my own if I can provide evidence as to why this would be of benefit to me?

    Many thanks!

  • melaniethorleymelaniethorley Member Posts: 138 Pioneering
    Good afternoon @66Mustang.

    Excellent news that you are considering university. For me, it is the second best thing I have done in my 53 years on this planet - and I did not go to university until I was 30.

    Being autistic should not be a factor when applying for university. They are, or should be, only interested in your academic ability. Simon Baron-Cohen (cousin of Sasha) is one of the world's leading autism specialists and he is based in Cambridge although I cannot remember which bit but you can Google 'Autism Centre Cambridge' and you should find it.

    A number of universities have specialist transition events for autistic students to prepare you for the realities of university life. The accommodation fees vary from university to university as most student accommodation is now run by housing associations. However, you should be able to request a disability-friendly and/or quiet accommodation. As you would be classified as a disabled student, you should receive priority choices for students accommodation. 

    I do not know much about funding but you should be able to find the answers here: How we can help | Disability Rights UK

    Finally, there are many adjustments for disabled students, including exam provision.

    I hope this is useful and good luck 
  • Tori_ScopeTori_Scope Posts: 4,959

    Scope community team

    Just to add to the great advice Melanie has given @66Mustang, you can read about the Disabled Students' Allowance here

    And yes, there are exam provisions that can be put in place. One of my friends at university had quite severe anxiety, and she was allowed to sit exams in a separate room with fewer students. Also, depending on the course you choose and the modules you select, you might not have to sit many exams. I only sat 3 exams during my whole time at university. Obviously some courses are a lot more exam-heavy though! 
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  • 66Mustang66Mustang Community Co-Production Group Posts: 5,038 Disability Gamechanger
    @melaniethorley and @Tori_Scope thank you very much for the answers. They make me feel a bit better about going to university. :) I will check out the suggested links.
  • forgoodnesssakeforgoodnesssake Member Posts: 367 Pioneering
    edited November 2020
    My son (athetoid CP and AAC user) certainly has a lot of reasonable adjustments made for him at his Uni (not Cambridge but a Russell group) so for example he works much slower and so his exams are done over a few days rather than a few hours and he can do them from his own room, or a designated room on his own in the library or similar.  He is in adapted student room in Uni owned halls and his cost is a bit subsidised by the uni as he cannot just share in a regular house etc.  This would be completely at the discretion of the uni though; it's not any sort of "right".  I know that there are students on benefits who have been successful in claiming housing benefit, but as is said elsewhere it is very complicated so you woudl need to get advice on that.
    Disabled Students Allowance pays for very little now except very specialist support, some equipment and some travel; universities themselves are now expected to provide most everyday support.  DSA would not pay any accommodation related costs.  (sorry if i sound a bit negative about's just that sometimes people talk about it as if it can provide a lot of support but it's now actually very limited, in our experience anyway)
    Good luck with your studies!

  • SMezzSMezz Member Posts: 4 Listener

    I write on behalf of my daughter who has ASD, anxiety, depression and selective mutism. 
    She attends college twice a week.  The rest of the week is online lessons.  She gets LSA support in class, but no help with online lessons.  We have asked if she can record these due to her slow processing as they sometimes go too fast for her to keep up.  I thought this would be a reasonable adjustment under the Equality Act for personal use.  College have responded “As things stand, we cannot record lessons as this is not current college practice and it raises issues under the Data Protection Act.“
    Is this correct as I notice other colleges and Uni’s allow this?  Do you know of any case law to support this? 

    Another student asked to record part of a lesson and the teacher said yes, but my daughter isn’t able to ask. 
  • melaniethorleymelaniethorley Member Posts: 138 Pioneering
    Good afternoon @SMezz and sorry to hear your daughter is having  such a difficult time.

    Legally, what is offered in class should also be available online. It is also good practice to record lessons, regardless of disability. I am not sure what happens in schools and colleges, but all the universities I know of, both in the UK and abroad record the majority of sessions. The only exceptions are counselling/social work when there is sensitive data.  There should also be a function which allows your daughter to write her questions/answers.

    The college is severely failing your daughter and adding to her frustration and anxiety. I am not aware of any case law as yet (although I am sure there will be a great many cases in the pipeline) . Sorry not to have any definitive suggestions, maybe contact the National Autistic Society or Disability Rights UK. Good luck 
  • Ems81Ems81 Member Posts: 20 Connected
    Hi Melanie
    I'm thinking about furthering my education through the Open University. I think an Access module would suit me to begin with. I'm disabled due to mobility issues and receive PIP. 
    I'm trying to find out if I would be eligible for a free Access module. The prospectus states the different criteria needed for this and says you can study for free if 'you receive qualifying benefits'. 
     But I can't find what these qualifying benefits are. I've looked everywhere and been googling for an hour now 😄
    I was wondering whether you knew? 
    I have emailed the Open University disability team but they're closed until tomorrow.
    Many thanks.

  • melaniethorleymelaniethorley Member Posts: 138 Pioneering
    edited December 2020
    Good morning and many apologies for the delay in replying - work has been ridiculously busy.
    Excellent news that you are considering returning to education, I did an Access course myself and would definitely recommend this route. Alternatively you can study a Foundation year/Year 0.
    I am not sure about the benefits as it very complicated. JobCentrePlus have specialist disability employment officers (available if you are working or not) and they are the best people to ask as they will be aware of local education providers as well as the OU. Good luck 
  • Ross_ScopeRoss_Scope Posts: 4,097

    Scope community team

    Thanks for the response @melaniethorley

    Hopefully work calms down soon and you get a nice break over Christmas :) 
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  • littleacornlittleacorn Member Posts: 198 Pioneering
    I am studying to be a teacher and just been diagnosed with dyslexia. I am not entitled to any benefits but how much DSA will I receive?
  • WaylayWaylay Member Posts: 949 Pioneering
    @66Mustang Don't know if it's too long since you posted for this to be useful, but figured I'd answer just in case.

    There's another university in Cambridge called Anglia Ruskin. Not Russell Group, but pretty good, apparently.

    I was at Cambridge as a postgraduate in 2006-2009, became disabled while I was there, and received almost no support. In the end I was kicked out because they didn't believe I was disabled. 

    That was a long time ago, postgraduate is very different from undergrad, and things may have changed. Regardless, just in case, I'd ask around before applying. There's a Disability Resource Centre that might be helpful, I hear there's now a disabled students organisation. 

    One important thing to know about Cambridge is that it doesn't work like most other unis. Accommodation and lot of teaching, food, and a lot of socialising is done in your College. The uni is kind of like the organisation that holds all the colleges together. Collegesare very different from each other, so if you want to know about accommodation, you probably need to ask the individual colleges.
  • melaniethorleymelaniethorley Member Posts: 138 Pioneering
    @littleacorn thank you for your message. There is not a set allowance for dyslexic students. It depends on what comes up during your Assessment of Need. You will also need to have a post-16 diagnosis to access the Disabled Students' Allowances. I can recommend some free learning technology if you do not have a diagnosis but the university you are attending may allow you extra time in exams for example. 
  • Ems81Ems81 Member Posts: 20 Connected
    @melaniethorley thank you so much for your reply. I also had a reply from the disability team at the OU and as a result I've registered to start my Access module in May 2021. I could have started at the beginning of February but it seemed a little too soon, I want to get my head around everything and be prepared. 
    I'm very excited!
    Thanks again 🙂
  • melaniethorleymelaniethorley Member Posts: 138 Pioneering
    Excellent news @Ems81. May seems a sensible time to start to give you time to prepare. You might find some of this software useful. I use the speech-to-text and text-to-speech apps when my rheumatism is bad:

  • Ems81Ems81 Member Posts: 20 Connected
    Thank you @melaniethorley I will definitely have a look at this.
  • littleacornlittleacorn Member Posts: 198 Pioneering
    @melaniethorley thanks I have just been diagnosed by the university and have an appointment on Wednesday next week where I will hopefully find out what support they can offer me but was just wondering what kind of things they may suggest.
  • melaniethorleymelaniethorley Member Posts: 138 Pioneering
    Hi @littleacorn and apologies for the delay in replying - I am on extended leave until 12 January. You will already have had your appointment but if there is anything else I can assist with, please let me know and enjoy your course 
  • Cher_ScopeCher_Scope Posts: 3,972

    Scope community team

    Hi @melaniethorley

    A member has requested I post this question on their behalf, if you could please respond when you have time after your leave has finished  :)

    The question is:
    I'm on the Autism Spectrum and I've not been able to work in a formal capacity for 12 years, having previously worked continuously for 16years.
    Although I have done adhoc pieces of working and regularly contributed to many voluntary projects in Brighton & Hove.
    I'm recently been researching the possibility of receiving Specialist/ Employment Mentoring on a privately funded basis, as there is state funded or charity sector provision available locally in Brighton & Hove.
    My question or enquiry is therefore: Is it possible to getting whole or part funding through either the goverment's 'Access to Work' scheme, or the Disabled Students' Allowance, if I were able to pursue either an employment or education pathway respectively?
    Many thanks.
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  • melaniethorleymelaniethorley Member Posts: 138 Pioneering
    Good morning and thank you for your query.

    The DSA is only for higher education qualifications, part-time and full-time. 

    Disabled Students' Allowances (DSAs) | Undergraduate, Postgraduate, Conservatoires | UCAS

    Access to Work can be used for any work, part-time included,  except voluntary work 

    Get support in work if you have a disability or health condition (Access to Work) - GOV.UK (

    A higher apprenticeship might suit you best as it combines work and study 

    Higher apprenticeships - who offers them & how they work (

    I hope this is useful and good luck with what you choose to do 

  • Cher_ScopeCher_Scope Posts: 3,972

    Scope community team

    @melaniethorley Thank you, that's super helpful!  I hope you had a lovely Christmas and New Year  :)
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  • melaniethorleymelaniethorley Member Posts: 138 Pioneering
    Thank you @Cher_Scope. Happy to assist and I did have a restful winter break 
  • kittydavieskittydavies Member Posts: 13 Listener
    edited April 6
    Hi I go to a college for people with ASD I was diagnosed with a rare genetic condition called FHH about a year ago. It causes me wrist Pain when I write. I have asked the college if my lsw could write for me when my wrist hurts. The college said that was a covid risk. I have asked if I could bring in my own laptop. They said it equipment has to belong to the college. So I asked if the college could provide a laptop for me to type I said I could get a doctor's note to move it was a medical cause. They said they didn't have the resources so I said do I just have to put up with the pain. They said sorry there is nothing we can do. That was In September. Since then I have mentioned to every member of staff that my wrists hurt. I offered a doctor's note they just say they don't need one they can see it's genuine. It's this fair or do I have rights? Im 19. Thanks also I live in Wales so the disability rights link isn't too helpful for me. @melaniethorley
  • melaniethorleymelaniethorley Member Posts: 138 Pioneering
    Good afternoon Kitty and I am very sorry to read this. The stance taken by your college is blatant discrimination. Although you live in Wales, you are still covered by the Equality Act 2010, which includes fair access to education. I would also recommend using speech-to-text software to save you typing so much. This is used throughout colleges and universities. There are lots of different software which are free. I recommend MyStudyBar as it has many other functions as well Here is the link: MyStudyBar – Eduapps.

    You download the software onto a USB stick which means the software will work on any desktop or laptop without interferring with the hardware. I hope this helps and good luck 
  • kittydavieskittydavies Member Posts: 13 Listener
    Thank you. My mum has spoken to the college again this time she told them I had to have a laptop and she was going to buy one ( my old one needs a lot of repairs and is old) she said it was because of my condition. The college said today I could use when of there laptop until my one comes. I don't know why it took so long but I'm glad things have changed and thank you 
  • melaniethorleymelaniethorley Member Posts: 138 Pioneering
    I am glad this has a positive outcome. However, the college is responsible for supplying you with a new laptop, your mum should not have been the person to buy one. Depending on what course you are doing, there maybe extra funds you can apply for as a disabled post-16 student. I hope you can enjoy your studies a bit more now and thank you for the update 
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