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Help! I’m a disabled student!

Being a student can be hard at the best of times, what with the deadlines, the tiny budgets, the endless reading lists and the mouldy hovels landlords tend to push us towards. However, being a disabled student adds another level entirely. Deadlines bring the dread of wondering if you will be physically able to complete the tasks. The budgets means that paid prescriptions, plus the extra costs associated with disability will push the limits of overdrafts. Reading lists become an impossible task due to fatigue and don’t get me started on how inaccessible student housing always is. However, do not despair! Help is on the way dear (Mrs Doubtfire, eat your heart out!)! Here is a list of ways that every disabled student can make their lives slightly easier and hopefully pave the way to a similar university experience of that of their able-bodied peers.

Image courtesy of @yellowbingodabber

Tell them!

The biggest mistake you can make as a student with a disability is to not tell your university. They might not be any use, but at least they know! This means that they can assure your seminar rooms are accessible, that you have enough time to get between classes or they can arrange extra help. For example, in my current university, the plan that I have means that my attendance isn’t compulsory, so if I have a bad day, I don’t need to worry about getting out. Similarly, in exams, I have a room separate from the main body, meaning that my stress levels are definitely reduced. I also receive extensions for my essays to allow for flares, fatigue and the general interruptions to life that come with chronic illness. It is always worth letting your institution know, just to see what help they can offer you. This could include mentoring, counselling, equipment loans or even grants.

Disabled Students Allowance

If you are a home student (meaning ordinarily resident in the UK), you can apply for a Disabled Students Allowance (DSA). Rather than cold hard cash necessarily, the DSA provides equipment and software to improve your study life. The allowance isn’t based on household income, nor do you repay it; it is solely based on what you need to manage your academic career alongside your mental and/or physical health conditions. There is more information about applying here but the process begins with filling out a form detailing what your disability is and how it affects you, along with a doctor’s letter or other suitable evidence (listed on the website above). You’ll then be referred to an assessment centre for an informal chat about your needs and what would improve your ability as a student. This is sent as a report to the Student Finance body and then you’ll be later notified about what you’re awarded. Personally, I received a wonderfully supportive desk chair and a desk that can be adjusted in height, along with ergonomic technology for my laptop and software to reduce my fatigue whilst writing and reading. They can also arrange mentoring and non medical helpers, such as people who can assist with note taking during lectures. I received DSA through Student Finance Wales and the process was relatively smooth and painless. However, my partner went through Student Finance England and the process became slightly convoluted. However, as with everything, we persevere!

Eligibility for benefits

Just because you’re a student, doesn’t mean that you can’t apply for some disability benefits to help cover the extra costs incurred through disability. Students are eligible to apply for Personal Independence Payment which is not means tested but rather is assessed on the basis of your needs, both personal and mobility. I’m not going to lie, it’s a difficult one, with long waiting times, brutal assessments and not a particularly high success rate. If at first you don’t succeed, try again! They have a mandatory reconsideration for free which has a much higher success rate. If you can get it, it’s really worth it. You can start the ball rolling by calling them on 0800 917 2222 (or 0800 917 7777 textphone) and they will then send you the form to complete. You must complete the form within the deadline or they unfortunately end your claim, meaning you’ll have to wait and start it all over again. There’s more information on this site here!

Another thing to apply for if you’re living in England is an NHS exemption form for help with costs with prescription medications, glasses, mobility equipment, wigs, fabrics, supports, travel to appointments and dental care. Students are eligible to apply for a HC2 form due to low income. You can find more information on the website and can request a form to be sent to you to fill out. For this form, you need a copy of your student finance allocation, plus your personal information. This form does not require any medical evidence.

Special Support Grant

If you qualify for PIP on any of the levels, you can apply for a Special Support Grant on Student Finance. You can also apply for one if you fit into any of the following:

This was taken from the section in my Student Finance Account called ‘Apply for Additional Support’. You can apply by calling 0300 200 4050 and having your Customer Reference Number handy.

NHS groups

Your local doctor’s surgery can be a wonderful place to get information on local groups that cater to your situation. There might be support groups, talking therapy sessions or your doctor could sign you up for privately run groups. These can be excellent to meet people in similar places to yourself, to build friendships, to get advice or just to have a laugh with people who understand!

Have you got any advice? Share your tips in the comments!

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Hugs x

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