Written By Holly Trippe (IG @miscellaneousmedic)
First published: 2 July 2020
Applying for Disabled Student Allowance (DSA) can be really intimidating. I know when I applied, I didn’t know what to expect. This post contains information about what DSA is, who is eligible for DSA and how to apply; plus, my own personal experience with the application process.
Disabled Students Allowance is a government funded initiative though student finance England. The other countries in the UK have their own similar initiatives. Eligible students can get support to help cover some of the extra costs they incur as a result of their disability. In order to be eligible for DSA you must live in England and have a disability that affects your ability to study. Some common examples include:
- Learning Disabilities e.g. Dyslexia and ADHD
- Mental health conditions e.g. anxiety or depression
- Physical Disability e.g. deafness or the use of crutches
- Long-term health condition e.g. HIV, chronic heart disease
You must also be studying a course that lasts at least a year.
A key benefit of this allowance is that it does not need to be repaid, however often students will not receive a sum of money, more an allowance which has been pre-allocated to specific things such as:
- Equipment – e.g. computers, software such as audio note-taker, printer
- Non-medical Helpers – e.g. a mentor
- Allowance toward extra travel costs incurred due to a disability
- Other disability related costs of studying
If you are studying a medical degree and are funded through NHS Bursary (normally 5th year students, or 4th year students if you intercalate), you are not eligible for DSA but can instead apply for the NHS Disabled Student Allowance.
At the bottom of this article I have included a flow diagram showing the whole process step by step.
Applying for DSA can be a really frustrating process, I had to send my forms through 3 times before they accepted it and sent me my DSA1 letter. This is a letter that says they also believe you may be eligible for DSA. The next step from here if to book your assessment at a verified centre. When you go to book the assessment via the link provided, each centre will have a cost next to it of £600+. Do not let this deter you as you do not have to pay this, the cost of assessment is funded by DSA.
Due to COVID I had my assessment over Skype, and this was actually a really positive experience. The initial appointment is long (mine was over 1.5 hours) but is not something to worry about. The assessment was nothing overly formal and was just a chat about how my condition affects me, with the goal of establishing what support would be most appropriate. For me, my mental health conditions really affects my cognitive focus so after discussion we decided that having speech to text software that would allow me to dictate my notes would be really helpful.
Despite finding the assessment overall very constructive, I did find aspects of it challenging. For me, acknowledging my mental health was a disability was particularly challenging; I knew it was affecting me badly but having to accept just how much it was affecting me was slightly surreal. Receiving and reading my DSA2 letter was difficult, as seeing all the information about me and my mental and physical health written on paper in such a blunt fashion was something I had never experienced before.
My DSA2 had statements such as ‘severe impact on cognitive function’, ‘Acute difficulties in maintaining focus due to severe mental health challenges’ and ‘this method of additional support is not a duplication but an accurate representation of the severity of the challenges this student faces’. When I first read this I was really overwhelmed, I didn’t know where to begin with processing this. I was relieved to discover that the blunt wording which had seemed so harsh was just to ensure that the DSA allocated me all the support recommended by the assessor.
It took me almost two years to sort my DSA, not because it had to take that long, but because I was so nervous about the process. Getting letters from the GP can take a while and be prepared for them to charge you for filling out the forms. I found that booking an appointment and going in with a list of what you need them to say helped ensure they covered all the necessary points. If paying for this letter is difficult, talk to your university and it may be that their Occupational Health department can fill out the form for free.
I had my DSA1 letter telling me to book an assessment for 14months before I booked it. On reflection this was largely due to fears of attending an interrogation into my mental and physical health. However, my preconceptions of what it would entail were so drastically wrong and I wish I had had someone to talk to about it, as having it explained to me would have would have saved me a huge amount of unnecessary worry and anxiety.
The support the DSA has given me will be hugely beneficial to my learning. Having a printer and a budget for printing ink and paper means if I can’t make it into university, I can print out work at home and complete it in my bed if needs be. I have a LiveScribe pen for on wards, which will be indispensable for days where brain fog hits hard and I can’t keep up with the speed of verbal teaching. I have also been allocated funding to have a specialist mental health mentor who I meet with once a week to ensure I’m doing okay, not falling behind with anything and is just there if I need to talk to someone. This is genuinely invaluable, and I haven’t even listed half of the support I received.
I am not able to say exactly what you will qualify for, everyone is different and requires different areas of support, but I urge you to apply as the assessors are experienced and will be able to help you gain the support that you need. What I can say for definite is, if you don’t apply, you won’t receive anything.