To get help with when you are doing a Higher Education course you could apply for Disabled Students Allowance (DSA). There is lots of information on the internet about applying, but this is a few tips from an applicant’s perspective after having gone through the process.
DSA is not means tested and is a grant not a loan. Do not buy any equipment in anticipation of receiving a loan as the costs will not be reimbursed.
If you have difficulty with making phone calls, organising yourself or remembering to do things you may want to get someone to help you as the process requires you to take the initiative.
IASS do not give advice on applying for DSA, instead speak to the Disability Advisor at your intended college or University or there may be someone at your school or college who can help.
When should I apply?
It can be a lengthy process, and ideally you should apply when you submit your UCAS application at the beginning of the year, but provided you apply before the start of the academic year, later applications are considered. It follows that you can apply before you have an offer of a place.
It is a very different process than applying for education support through an EHC Plan, and you do not need to have had an EHC Plan to apply for DSA.
What help can I get?
- Assistive Technology and software (computers, printers, recorders, etc.),
- Specialist Support (for notetaking, organising your work, etc.) called Non- Medical Allowance.
- Extra travel costs.
- General allowance – this pays for the needs assessment!
DSA’s are not intended for the costs of extra academic tuition, subject specific coaching or support in the main subject area(s) being studied. Institutions should meet these costs as part of providing the course. If you think you will need help with this speak to your Disability Advisor as soon as possible.
How do I apply?
Student Finance will send you a form when you apply for a Student Loan. More details are available on the UCAS website. https://www.ucas.com/disabled-students-allowances-dsas
It is important to include all the things in your application that may affect your studies at University not just autism as this may entitle you to extra help. For example, include any diagnosed dyslexia, poor motor skills, anxiety, depression, ADHD, other medical conditions etc.
Student Finance will check your application to see if you are eligible and, if so, will write to you telling you to contact a Study Needs Assessment centre to arrange to meet with an assessor. A list of assessors is available at www.dsa-qag.org.uk. Do not book an appointment until you are told to.
The assessment takes up to 2 hours and you can take a supporter with you to the assessment. The Assessors will want to know what you need help with to see what they can offer to help you.
It is worth bearing in mind that non-medical support can be removed if more than 2 sessions a term are missed, so if the nature of your disability is such that you might regularly need to miss booked sessions without warning, discuss this with the Study Needs Assessors as they should indicate this on the needs assessment report if they identify that this is likely to occur.
If you decide specialist software will help you, remember to ask for training.
The assessor then sends their findings and recommendation to Student Finance.
Student Finance England will write to you telling you what you have been awarded.
If you have been awarded Specialist Equipment Allowance you will be contacted by the supplier to arrange delivery. You are required to pay a minimum of £200 towards the cost of a computer or laptop. If you wish to upgrade to a higher spec piece of equipment you will have to pay more. Ask the supplier for a list of approved retailers or alternative standard equipment if you are considering upgrading. This has to be approved before purchase.
If you have been awarded Non-Medical Allowance it is up to you, or your Disability Adviser, to contact the agency named in the award letter to request that they start looking for staff. If the agency named in the award letter is not able to find someone suitable, you can go back to the Needs Assessor and ask to change agencies.
Working with your Non-Medical Support Worker
If you are dealing directly with an agency to find support staff, try to find out as soon as you can when and where you would like your support sessions to be held. The Agency will need this information to check that the support worker is available when you are. Sessions are usually held on campus. There are limits to what DSA will pay for if you do not attend support sessions regularly, so it is important that you find a time that you can stick to. You will be required to sign your support workers timesheet as proof the session took place.
You have one year to use your allocated support hours, any not used will be lost.