Support for disabled students at college and university

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Support for disabled students at college and university

If you have a disability, learning difference, or health condition, colleges and universities can help to support you in your studies. This post looks at the types of support available, suggests how you might share information about your support needs, and where to find out more.

The Equality Act 2010 defines disabled as ‘a physical or mental impairment which has substantial and long-term adverse effect on your ability to carry out normal day-to-day-activities’.

Universities and colleges are likely to follow this or a similar definition. It may be helpful to clarify which definition they use.


Types of support for disabled students:

Your college or university may offer you support such as:

  • Speak or meet with you to discuss what support they can offer, before you apply
  • Campus meetings and visits, to help you feel comfortable in the transition to your course
  • Ensure accessibility measures are in place, if needed
  • Access to assistive technology
  • Academic support, and speaking to your lecturers and tutors on your behalf,
  • Exam support and adjustments
  • Helping you to understand and apply for disabled students allowance, if this is relevant to you
  • Link you up with other support in the college or university, like counselling or medical services
  • Help with finding appropriate accommodation or parking.


Before applying to college or university:

As part of your research into courses at college or university, it is recommended you speak with disability support teams at the institutions you are considering. It might be that the support available differs between institutions, and this could make a big difference to where you apply to, or eventually choose to go! Open Days are a good time and place for this, or you can arrange a separate visit or meeting. Take a look at UCAS’ guide to preparing for an Open Day or campus visit.


How or when should I share information about my disability?

It is completely up to you if you would like to share information about your disability. You can share this information at any stage of your college or university course.

However, it can be helpful to speak with colleges and universities about putting support in place before starting your studies. This can help to make the start of college or university as smooth as possible.

You can advise colleges and universities of your disability in your application. This can be done by completing the relevant section on your UCAS or college application form for disability and additional support. You can also note details in your personal statement or in the academic statement from your school. You might also like to make contact directly with the university or college during the application stage to discuss this further.

Colleges and universities welcome you sharing information with them so that they can discuss with you the support measures you might need, and put this support in place. Please know that any information you share about your disability will not be used in making a decision about your application, and it would be unlawful for colleges or universities to refuse you a place or treat you less favourably based on your disability (following the Disability Discrimination Act 2001, and Equality Act 2010).

Knowing the type of support which is available to you might affect your choice when selecting a college or university. This is another good reason to look into the services and support at each institution, and to share information early in the application process.


An example of support:

Below, you can see as an example, how support is offered to students at Edinburgh Napier University:

‘’If you have a disability or health condition for which you require support, you are strongly encouraged to speak to a Disability Inclusion Adviser about your support needs at the earliest opportunity.

As a first step while you settle into your new course and as we get to know you, we will normally look to match whatever support you have had at school or college. If you have had a support plan in the past, it is always helpful if you can bring that to your first meeting with one of our Advisers.

This first meeting is important, even if you have included information on your UCAS or direct entry application form, or you have mentioned your difficulties to an academic member of staff. We can help you look ahead, predict any difficulties you might experience because of how your course is taught and assessed… and take steps to help you avoid any of those problems.

Please note that support, including exam adjustments, are only put in place once you have discussed and agreed them with an Adviser in the Disability Inclusion Team.

If you, or your parent/carer would like to speak to someone about the types of support available you can contact us at any point in year.’’

Written by Heather Armstrong, Disability and Inclusion Team, Edinburgh Napier University.


To find out more:

Support for disabled students can usually be found in the Student Support departments, or Student Disability or Inclusion Services at the college or university.

You can find out more information on the institutions’ webpages, by contacting the college or university directly, or at Open Days.


LEAD Scotland have comprehensive downloadable guides here, including information about Disabled Students Allowance, support at college and university, the equality act and your rights in post-school learning, and arranging support workers in higher education.

UCAS have some useful guides about applying to university as a disabled student, and disabled students’ frequently asked questions.

Disability Rights UK have an Into HE Guide for students starting college or university, and a factsheet on Adjustments for Disabled Students.


Please contact the LEAPS team if you have any questions or would like to discuss support for disabled students, further. We are happy to speak on the phone, or email, and we can help you to make contact with the relevant staff members at colleges or universities that you’re considering.