DSA: Find Your Way

The Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) scheme aims to ensure everyone has the support and adjustments they need to succeed during their studies. However, knowing where to start or even what the DSA really is can be difficult.

This guide will give you the information you need to navigate the DSA application process and receive the support you’re entitled to.

Page last updated: April 2024

About the DSA

Who is this Find Your Way guide for?

While the overall process for accessing the DSA is similar across the UK, there are some differences for students outside of England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

This guide aims to be relevant to all students from across the UK, but you may find it useful to use this resource in conjunction with advice from your funding body.

For example, Scottish students receive funding through the Students Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS), which has its own documentation, terminology for support types, and funding allocation methods. If you’d like to learn more about the DSA for Scottish students, we’d recommend exploring SAAS’s own DSA resources.

What is the DSA?

Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) is a grant you don’t need to repay. It funds support that will help you succeed in Higher Education by breaking down the barriers you may otherwise have faced, whether they’re related to your studies, physical access, or wellbeing.

Although referred to as an ‘allowance,’ you won’t receive money directly (unless you are a student from Scotland). For students outside of Scotland, once your DSA is approved, funding is allocated to your chosen support providers. This removes the need for you to handle the administrative tasks of contacting, paying for, and collecting receipts for your allocated support.

If you have a disability, mental health condition, neurodiversity, chronic illness and/or learning difference, you may be able to access the DSA. If you’re unsure if you might be eligible, check out our Eligibility FAQ for further guidance.

Is it worth applying for DSA?

Students often ask if it’s really worth them applying for the DSA. Let’s unpack some of the key reasons you might choose not to apply and why we’d recommend applying!

“I’ve got through my life so far without any help, so why would I need support now?”

Studying in Higher Education brings its own unique set of challenges, experiences and opportunities. Accessing Disabled Students’ Allowance is one such opportunity. Even if you’re confident in your ability to study and live independently, DSA can expose you to new strategies and ways of working and learning that you might find beneficial!

“I don’t need the support as much as other people; I don’t want to take resources from those who might need them more.”

There’s enough funding to go around! Everyone is deserving of the support that will enable them to participate and thrive, no matter your disability or diagnosis.

“I don’t identify as disabled.”

Don’t let the fact that you don’t call yourself ‘disabled’ hold you back from applying; many different diagnoses and long-term conditions might make you eligible for the DSA. Check out our FAQ for more information to help you work out if you might qualify.

What type of support does the DSA fund?

The DSA funds a diverse range of support types, so you can access the support that feels most right for you.

To work out what support you could receive, your DSA application includes a ‘needs assessment’. This is a conversation between you and a DSA needs assessor where you will discuss your course, your learning needs, and the barriers you might face. Once you have explored your needs, the assessor will create a ‘report’ that lists what different types of support they would recommend for you.

The support is broken down into four main areas. Although terminology will differ for Scottish students, the nature of the support remains the same:

Specialist equipment allowance

This can include ergonomic equipment and assistive technology (AT) that will provide suitable technical solutions to help you study more efficiently. Technology includes hardware, like a laptop, and software such as advanced spelling and grammar checkers.

Non-medical helper allowance

Providing specialist one-to-one support from a qualified professional in one or more of the following fields:

  • Specialist Study Skills Support
    A study skills support (sometimes called a study skills tutor) help you understand your learning style, embrace your strengths, and work on study strategies to overcome challenges.
  • Specialist Mentoring
    A mental health or autistic spectrum mentor will help you to develop strategies to maintain positive mental health and ultimately feel happier and more confident while you’re studying.
  • Assistive Technology Training
    An assistive technology trainer will teach you to use the software and equipment that you have been allocated. You will learn not only how to simply use the technology but also how to embed it alongside effective study strategies. The training will help you to get the most out of your software and equipment.
  • British Sign Language (BSL) Interpreter
    BSL/English interpreters will translate BSL into spoken English and spoken English into BSL for accessible communication while studying.
  • Specialist Notetaker
    A notetaker will make a comprehensive (although non-verbatim) record of the content of lectures, seminars and discussions in your preferred style and format.
  • Specialist Support Professional (SSP) for Students with Sensory Impairment
    This support is bespoke to your sensory impairment. An SSP supports you through language modification, explanation and revision of information. They also assist you to implement reasonable adjustments, plan workloads, structure assignments, access research sources and prepare effectively for assessments.
Other disability-related study support

Covers day-to-day stationery costs such as:

  • Photocopying
  • Printing
  • Ink cartridges
  • Paper
Travel Allowance

This allowance helps with extra travel costs you may have to pay to get to university or college due to your disability or chronic illness. It can cover taxi fares or mileage costs to and from your home address to your university or college.

Who can access DSA?

DSA is available to students who:

  • Have a disability, mental health condition, neurodiversity, chronic illness and/or learning difference;
  • Are studying an undergraduate or postgraduate course (including Open University or distance learning);
  • Are studying a full-time or part-time course that lasts at least one year, and;
  • Are ‘home students’ (you are a student from England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland).

Many different factors affect whether or not you will be eligible for DSA. If you’re unsure about your eligibility, you can:

  • Check out our DSA Eligibility FAQ
  • Talk to the Disability Advisor or Disability Support Services at your prospective or current university or college.

Even if you’re not eligible for DSA, you may be able to access support through a similar scheme. Contact the Disability Support Services at your prospective or current university or college to discuss what support may be available to you.

How can I access the DSA?

The most important thing is that you apply. This starts the process and lets your funding body know you’re interested in accessing DSA. 

After that, your funding body will guide you through the process, contacting you with information at each stage. Once you have accepted your place on a course, your university’s disability service will also happily guide you through the process.

The process itself is straightforward. We’ll break it down into four steps: apply; be assessed; receive confirmation; take up support

We’ll guide you through each step in more detail in a moment, but here’s an overview of the four stages:

1. Apply

You apply online, letting your funding body (for example, Student Finance England, Student Awards Agency for Scotland, Student Finance Wales, Student Finance Northern Ireland, or NHS Student Bursary) know you want to receive the DSA.

2. Be assessed
  1. Your funding body contacts you back with instructions on how to arrange your DSA needs assessment.
  2. You attend your needs assessment. This is not a test, but rather a space to discuss your study needs.
  3. Your needs assessor provides you with a report outlining what support they recommend you receive.
  4. Your needs assessor sends your report to your funding body.
3. Receive confirmation

You receive a confirmation email from your funding body, letting you know what support you have been awarded, along with instructions on how you can begin receiving it.

4. Take up support

You now have all the funding confirmed to begin taking up your recommended support. The support is available to you throughout your time as a student, and any equipment or hardware you receive is yours to keep!

Now that you have an overview of the process, let’s look at it in more detail.