The world of Access to Work (AtW) and the Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) is often full of acronyms, abbreviations and different organisations, which can feel like trying to find your way through a maze! So we have put together this glossary to help you navigate and understand the different names and terms you might encounter.

We hope you find this useful – please feel free to share!


ADHD stands for Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder and covers a range of behaviour disorders, including poor concentration, hyperactivity and learning difficulties.


ADSHE stands for The Association of Dyslexia Specialists in Higher Education. ADSHE focuses specifically on the issues affecting university students, including transition into HE and transition out into the workplace. ADSHE provides a focused network for dyslexia specialists in HE where the concerns are different to the wider educational environment.


ASASA stands for Association of Study Aids and Strategies Assessors (sometimes referred to as ‘DSA Needs Assessors’), who help disabled students identify strategies they can use to participate in higher education.


Ability means the power, capability or skill to do certain activity. D&A defines ‘ability’ as the way in which an individual can assess, engage in and access their full potential. With or without support, this engagement can be self-defined and owned entirely by the individual to determine the success of their own achievement.


Aptitude refers to what you are potentially capable of, even if you have not currently achieved it.


Assessment is a term which means an evaluation of your existing skills and what you could achieve, using tests, observation and discussion.

Assessment of Need

Assessment of Need is a formal interview to assess your equipment and support needs, taking into account your strengths and weaknesses.


AtW stands for Access to Work – is a government funding scheme run by Jobcentre Plus. It covers the costs of ‘reasonable adjustments’ in the workplace for disabled employees. Under the Equality Act 2010 employers have a legal duty to apply ‘reasonable adjustments’ for all employee disability needs, thus supporting employees to overcome work-related obstacles related to their disabilities. The grant is available to unemployed, employed, self-employed; full-time, part-time, permanent or temporary workers.

Auditory short-term memory

Auditory short-term memory is the ability to retain information received instantly through listening.


Ensuring that people feel welcome, heard, safe, respected and included in different strands of their day to day lives.


BSL stands for British Sign Language – the most commonly used language by d/Deaf people in the UK.


CEDAG stands for The Chief Executive’s Disability Advisory Group and is SFC’s advisory group on disability matters.

Cognitive Style

Cognitive Style is the usual way you approach learning or problem solving. Other words similar in meaning: ‘Learning style’

Cognitive functioning

Cognitive functioning concerns performance in mental processes such as thinking, understanding and remembering.

Compensatory strategies

Compensatory strategies are alternative, faster or harder methods that you may use to get around your weaknesses.


Comprehension usually means your ability to understand spoken or written information. It is also the name of an IQ test from the WAIS which aims to assess your ability to understand the cause and affect of actions.


DDA stands for Disability Discrimination Act (1995), which refers to UK legislation setting out the rights of disabled people not to encounter unjustified discrimination in society on account of a disability. This Act has now been replaced by the Equality Act 2010


DELNI stands for Department for Employment and Learning for Northern Ireland.


Digital Media Access Group – Provides consultancy and research into accessibility and usability of digital media.


“Disabled Person’s Organisations” are representative organisations or groups of persons with disabilities, where people with lived experience of disability constitute a majority of the overall staff, board, and volunteers in all levels of the organisation.


Disability Rights Commission – An independent body established to eliminate discrimination against disabled people and to promote equality of opportunity.


Disabled Student Allowance – An allowance for disabled students in Higher Education.


The Disabled Students Allowance Quality Assurance Group provides a quality assurance service for assessment centres and suppliers involved in the delivery of the Disabled Students’ Allowance scheme in England and Wales.

DSA1 Form

DSA1 Form is the form that disabled students need to fill in to claim DSA.


Decoding means breaking written words down into familiar sounds or shapes in order to make sense of them.


Diagnosis is a word borrowed from the medical world, which describes the process of explaining the nature and cause of somebody’s learning difficulties

Diagnostic Assessors

Diagnostic Assessors are Educational Psychologists and professionals with postgraduate qualifications, specialising in learning processes, who are allowed to administer the WAIS IQ Scales.

Digit Span

Digit Span is the name of an IQ test from the WAIS which aims to test your Auditory Short-term Memory. This involves repeating increasingly long numbers forwards and backwards.

Digit Symbol Coding

Digit Symbol Coding is the name of an IQ test from the WAIS which aims to test your Visual Short-term Memory and fine motor skills. This involves matching, remembering and copying symbols under timed conditions.


Disabilities can be physical or hidden, often overlapping and experienced differently by each and every person. It is an umbrella term that can be applied to a range of different experiences, such as physical and sensory impairments, mental health conditions, learning differences and long term or chronic illnesses, etc. A disability can be present from birth or occur later on in a person’s life, perhaps stemming from an accident or ageing, for example. Disability is often classed as a condition that may hinder a person’s full participation in society (see the “social model” and “disablement” to understand the complexity of framing “disability” in the context of disabling societies).


Disablement describes any part of society or culture which prevents disabled people from overcoming socio-economic barriers. This could include law, policy, inaccessible environments, a belief or attitude. The impact of these barriers can lead to isolation, anger, disillusionment and dehumanisation, all of which can be challenged and overcome by disabled-led initiatives who champion disabled peoples rights and interests.


Diversity means a spectrum of differences in ability, age, culture, gender, race, religion, and sexuality, for example. D&A welcomes and celebrates a definition of diversity as a rich balance of differences. For D&A, diversity is inspiring, and we aspire to create harmonious communities of coexistence, where marginalised voices are given equal respect as the dominant ones.


Dyscalculia Specific difficulty with maths and numbers.


Dysgraphia Specific difficulty with writing, including spelling, sentence structure and handwriting.


There is no agreed definition of dyslexia! Here is a simple one to use when trying to explain dyslexia quickly to others. Dyslexia is a specific difficulty with written language, which exists despite high intelligence, health and education. Other common difficulties include memory, coordination, sequencing, organisation and direction. For D&A’s perspective on dyslexia see ‘neurodiversity’.


Dysphasia Specific difficulty with speech and language patterns.


Dyspraxia Specific difficulty with motor skills, including speech, hand movements and eye movements.


A way to describe someone that has authentic experience of using a tool or service, giving detailed insight into how it performs from the perspective of someone that often relies on it.

Equality Act 2010

Equality Act 2010 is an act of parliament that forms the basis of anti-discrimination law in the UK. It requires equal treatment in access to employment as well as private and public services, regardless of the protected characteristics of age, disability, gender, marriage and civil partnership, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation. The Equality Act covers what used to be known as the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA).


HE stands for Higher Education, which takes place in universities and higher education institutions, and colleges. HE courses are programmes leading to qualifications, or credits which can be counted towards qualifications. They include HNCs, HNDs, degree courses, and postgraduate courses.


HEAG stands for Higher Education Accessibility Guide. HEAGNET is a web-based database, created by the European Agency for Development in Special Needs Education, providing information regarding disability support services in Higher Education in 17 European countries.


Stands for Higher Education Funding Council for England. This organisation promotes and funds teaching and research in English universities and colleges.


HEI stands for Higher Education Institutions and is an umbrella term used for education institutions that do not have a university title. However, as with universities, they provide courses that lead to qualifications including HNCs, HNDs, degree courses, and postgraduate courses. HEIs is also commonly used when talking about universities and HEIs as a group.


HESA stands for Higher Education Statistics Agency, which is central source for Higher Education statistics.


HTML stands for Hypertext Mark-up Language, which is a computer coding language used to create web pages.


Hemispheres is the name for the two parts that the brain is divided into. There are two hemispheres: the Left and the Right. Each hemisphere is said to be specialised in different thought processes.


Hereditary is a term which means a characteristic that is passed from one generation of a family to another. Dyslexia is hereditary as it often runs in families.


ILTHE stands for the Institute for Learning & Teaching in HE – a professional body for all who teach and support learning in Higher Education in the UK (also known as the ILT).


“Diversity is about counting people, inclusion is about insisting they count.”- Atif Choudhury, CEO and Co-founder of Diversity & Ability.

We have found that diversity can sometimes be surface-level and focused on statistics or box-checking. In contrast, inclusion is more than just having lots of differences represented; it is about making sure that everyone feels comfortable and confident, valued and respected, heard and understood.


Intersectionality refers to the way that the different aspects of our identity don’t exist separately from each other but combine and overlap to shape how we experience the world, and the different modes of discrimination and privilege we may experience.

The origin of the term intersectionality, and the theory relating to it, is credited to Kimberlé Crenshaw.

IQ Test

IQ Test is the name for a test or group of tests (such as the WAIS) designed to measure how ‘intelligent’ a person is in comparison to the rest of his/her age group. There is however no common agreement as to what ‘intelligence’ is and how to measure it objectively. Other words similar in meaning: ‘psychometric tests’.


Joint Information Systems Committee – This committee supports further and higher education by providing strategic guidance, advice and opportunities to use Information and Communications Technology to support teaching, learning, research and administration.


LTSN stands for Learning and Teaching Support Network – a network of 24 subject centres which enables the sharing of good practice and the provision of learning and teaching resources and information for the Higher Education community.

Learning Style

Learning Style is a preferred method or approach for problem-solving or intellectual functioning consistently used by an individual. Other words similar in meaning: ‘Cognitive style’.

Lived experience

Lived experience can be the source of rich knowledge and profound empathy, that informs the conception of systems and services that are fit for purpose and inclusive. The saying “Nothing about us without us” is used to communicate the idea that no policy should be decided by any representative without the full and direct participation of members of the group(s) affected by that policy.


MIND stands for Mental Health Voluntary Organisation – the leading mental health voluntary organisation in England and Wales.

Meares-Irlen Syndrome

Meares-Irlen Syndrome is a specific type of problem with eyesight that gives physical discomfort when reading. This can lead to slow reading, frustration, tiredness, headaches and mistakes. People with this Syndrome may become tired after 5 to 10 minutes of reading. Lines may appear to jump, move or distort. Problems get worse when reading small print on white or shiny paper. The use of special coloured glasses or a transparent plastic overlay over text can bring relief. Other words similar in meaning: Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome; Colour Sensitivity; Irlen Syndrome.


NADP stands for National Association of Disability Practitioners – a professional association for disability officers working in UK Higher and Further Education Institutions.


NCTD stands for National Centre for Tactile Diagrams – an organisation providing tactile diagrams, maps and pictures for blind and partially sighted people.


NDT stands for National Disability Team – a group contracted by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and the Department for Employment and Learning for Northern Ireland (DELNI) to undertake the service of a national team to improve provision for disabled students in higher education.


NHSBSA stands for National Health Service Business Services Authority administers funding for healthcare and social work students on behalf of the Department of Health.


NUS stands for National Union of Students – a confederation of local student representative organisations in colleges and universities throughout the United Kingdom.


Neurodiversity refers to the idea that people experience the world differently based on the ways that their brains and environments interact. The term is most commonly applied to people with autism-spectrum conditions such as Asperger’s Syndrome, but can also be applied to a range of learning difficulties, disabilities, mental illnesses and other neurological differences. D&A embraces the neurodiversity movement, which does not see neurological differences as disabilities, but rather as diverse balance of unique and equally valid skills and experiences that benefit society and deserve celebration.


Relating to the functioning and structure of the brain and nervous system.


OU stands for The Open University – a distance learning and research university in the UK. It is notable for having an open entry policy, i.e. students’ previous academic achievements are not taken into account for entry to most undergraduate courses.

Open Source

Open Source is a philosophy and methodology from the information and computing technology field, which promotes free access and sharing of information relating to an end product’s coding, design and use. D&A embraces the Open Source movement’s emphasis on being shaped and led by a community of end-users and providing an alternative to exclusive, profit-driven technology markets.

PAS 78

PAS 78 stands for Publicly Accessible Specification 78 – a standard produced by the British Standards institute, commissioned by the Disability Rights Commission, and launched in March 2006. It provides organisations with Good Practice in Commissioning Accessible Web sites.

Percentile rank

Percentile rank is a system of grading you in comparison to a similar group of a hundred people. For example, if a hundred students of a similar age to you took a spelling test and you scored in the 30th percentile, that would mean that on average 69% of students would score better than you, and 29 % would score less well. 30% of students would score the same as you.


Perception means an awareness and interpretation of sounds, sights, smells, tastes or feelings. Other words similar in meaning: ‘Auditory Perception’ – often used to describe our interpretation of speech sounds.

Performance IQ

Performance IQ is the technical term for your ‘intelligence’ as tested by manual and visual tasks that require no speaking or writing of words.

Phonological awareness

Phonological awareness is the technical term for your understanding of how letters of the alphabet represent speech sounds.


Profile is the technical term for a short description about your learning strengths and weaknesses.

Protected characteristics

Under the Equality Act 2010, it is illegal to discriminate against someone because of their:

  1. age
  2. disability
  3. gender reassignment
  4. marriage and civil partnership
  5. pregnancy and maternity
  6. race
  7. religion or belief
  8. sex
  9. sexual orientation

Psychometric test

Psychometric test is the technical term for the measurement of psychological skills by tests.


QAA stands for Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education – an independent body established to provide an integrated quality assurance service for UK higher education.


RNIB stands for Royal National Institute of the Blind – a voluntary organisation offering practical support and advice to anyone who is blind or has a visual impairment.


RNID stands for Royal National Institute of the Deaf – a voluntary organisation offering support and advice to anyone with hearing loss.

Reading age

Reading age is a term used to explain the results of certain reading tests in terms of what stage you are at. For example, if your reading age is found to be ’12 years and 6 months’, this is supposed to mean that your reading skills are average for a child of that age. Many reading tests have a ‘ceiling’ age, for example 15 years. This means that, even if you read everything perfectly, you still would be compared to an average 15 year old. A similar system exists for some spelling tests.

Reasonable Adjustments

Reasonable Adjustments are changes that employers are legally bound (under the Equality Act 2010) to make in the workplace to meet the needs of disabled employees. The aim is to remove barriers that prevent disabled people from integrating fully into the workplace. Employers are required to make reasonable adjustments to any of their provisions, criteria or practices that place a disabled person at a particular disadvantage compare to non-disabled persons.


stands for Student Awards Agency for Scotland – an Agency of the Scottish Executive, responsible for processing support applications from eligible Scottish domiciled students undertaking full time, higher education courses up to degree level throughout the UK. SAAS also administers the Postgraduate Student Allowances Scheme and the Student Nursing and Midwifery Bursary Scheme and provide DSA (Disabled Students Allowance)


SAMH stands for Scottish Association for Mental Health – SAMH operates a range of services across Scotland for people with mental health problems, and also aims to influence public policy as it affects people with mental health problems.


SENDA stands for Special Educational Needs and Disability Act – an Act that went through Parliament in May 2002, to remove the exemption of Education from the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. It has now been embedded into the DDA as DDA (Part IV).


SFC stands for Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council – the public organisation that allocates funding for teaching and learning, research and other activities in Scotland’s colleges and universities. Established in 2005 as a result of the merger of the Scottish Higher Education and Further Education Funding Councils (SHEFC and SFEFC).


SFE stands for Student Finance England – a service allowing full-time higher education students from England to apply for finance online. It also lets parents and partners of students support an application online.


SFEFC stands for Scottish Further Education Funding Council. This organisation ceased to exist in 2005 and was replaced by the SFC.


SHEFC stands for Scottish Higher Education Funding Council. This organisation ceased to exist in 2005 and was replaced by the SFC.


SKILL is an organisation ow no longer in operation, otherwise known as the National Bureau for Students with Disabilities – a voluntary sector organisation that promotes opportunities for young people and adults with any disability in Post-16 education, training and employment across the United Kingdom.


SLC stands for The Student Loans Company – a non-departmental public body in the UK that administers student loans and grants provided by the government in the UK. The SLC is responsible for Student Finance England (SFE) and is a delivery partner of Student Finance Wales and Student Finance NI.

Scotopic Sensitivity

Scotopic Sensitivity literally means: ‘vision in dim light’. See ‘Mears Irlen Syndrome’ above.

Sequencing skills

Sequencing skills is the technical term for the ability to arrange letters, words, numbers, ideas or tasks in a formal or logical structure. This is often seen as an area of weakness for people with dyslexia.

Short-term memory

Short-term memory is the capacity for holding a small amount of information in mind in an active, readily available state for a short period of time, usually seconds. Other words similar in meaning: see ‘Working Memory’ below.

Social model

The social model is based on the understanding that a range of societal and environmental barriers exclude individuals from fully participating in society. This removes the onus on the individual, highlighting the importance of accessibility and inclusion for all.


Specific Learning Difficulty means a difficulty with a particular aspect of learning, rather that all learning tasks. Dyslexia is seen as a ‘specific learning difficulty’. SpLD is an umbrella term in the UK to describe a variety of learning difficulties including dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, attention deficit disorder, Asperger’s syndrome and autism. D&A prefers to use the term Specific Learning Differences rather than difficulties. See ‘Neurodiversity’ above.

Speed of information processing

Speed of information processing means how long it takes you to make sense of and use visual or auditory information. This is often seen as an area of weakness for people with dyslexia.


Standardised is a technical term used by disability assessors. When a test score is ‘standardised’, that means that an average score has been worked out for people of a particular age.

Student Finance NI

Student Finance NI is a service allowing full-time higher education students from Northern Ireland to apply for finance online. It also lets parents and partners of students support an application online.

Student Finance Wales

Student Finance Wales is a service allowing full-time higher education students from Scotland to apply for finance online.


Subtests are smaller tests that form part of a larger test.


Symbol means something which visually represents something else. For example, a letter of the alphabet or musical notation can represent a sound. Mathematical symbols are used to represent number values or relationships. It is said that some dyslexic people have difficulty with symbols.


TechDis stands forTechnology for Disabilities Information Service – a service providing the UK Higher and Further Education sectors with advice and information on disability-related technology issues.

Unconscious bias

The idea that deeply ingrained learned social stereotypes or preconceived understandings, preferences and experiences influence the way we feel about something and may impact our decision making. Bias, therefore, manifests as a prejudice in favour of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another usually in a way that’s considered to be unfair. In recruitment, unconscious bias can affect hiring choices, where certain applicants may be hired over others due to shared backgrounds or characteristics with the employer. This can result in a lack of diversity and representation.

Verbal IQ

Verbal IQ measures your ‘intelligence’ as assessed by your knowledge and understanding of language, your General Knowledge and your Working Memory. This is often contrasted with your ‘Performance IQ’ (See above). Tests may include such things as: Vocabulary (your ability to define words) or Abstract Verbal Reasoning (your ability to solve problems you hear using logic and common sense).


W3C stands for World Wide Web Consortium – an organisation drawn from commercial, public and academic sectors and charged with developing technologies to advance development of the Web as an information source and communication medium.


WAI stands for Web Accessibility Initiative – a project of the W3C, involved in developing guidelines, technologies and techniques that promote accessibility of Web content.


WAIS stands for The Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale – a test designed to measure intelligence in adults and older adolescents.[1] It is currently in its fourth edition (WAIS-IV). The original WAIS (Form I) was published in February 1955 by David Wechsler, as a revision of the Wechsler-Bellevue Intelligence Scale. Wechsler defined intelligence as ‘… the global capacity of a person to act purposefully, to think rationally, and to deal effectively with his environment.’


WCAG stands for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines – the most thorough and widely referenced guidelines specifically dealing with the design of accessible web sites. Developed by the WAI of the W3C, involved in developing guidelines, technologies and techniques that promote accessibility of Web content.

Word recognition

Word recognition means your ability to accurately recognise and understand a word that you read.

Working Memory

Working Memory means memory that can hold a limited amount of information for a short period of time, very roughly about seven items for between two seconds and a minute. This term also describes the store in which new information is placed after being processed. Poor Working Memory, either auditory or visual, is commonly seen as a symptom or cause of dyslexia. Other words similar in meaning: ‘Short-term Memory’.