Find Your Way through the DSA (Disabled Students’ Allowance)

With our guide to the Disabled Students’ Allowance, you’ll have all the information and guidance you need to ensure you can access the support you deserve for your time in higher education.

My technology training through the DSA was great! I left the sessions feeling so confident with a clear idea of how to use my AT. The style of instruction was fantastic -easy to follow and clear. My trainer was even lovely enough to give me additional tips and resources beyond what we were scheduled to chat about.

Jack Wood*, BSc Radiography and Imaging

DSA support allocated: Assistive Technology and Training (8 hours), Specialist Study Skills Support (12 hours)

*Name changed to protect anonymity

In partnership with NHS Health Education England Logo

About the DSA for NHS Students

The DSA is a grant that funds support to help break down the barriers that you may face in accessing higher education. If you are disabled or have a disability, learning difference or long term health condition (including the long-term effects of COVID-19 and/or a mental health condition), you will be entitled to receive DSA support.

Types of support

When you meet with a DSA needs assessor, you’ll have the opportunity to discuss your learning needs, the barriers you face, and the way your course works. The assessor will then go through the support that could benefit you, which will focus on one or more of the four main areas of DSA support:

Specialist equipment

This includes:

  • Ergonomic equipment (for example, a laptop stand or armrest)
  • Hardware (for example, a laptop or printer)
  • Software (for example, Assistive Technology (AT) that supports with spelling, grammar or reading)
Non-medical helper allowance

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

  • Specialist Study Skills Support 

A study skills tutor will 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.

General allowance

This is designed to cover day-to-day costs, such as:

  • Printing
  • Photocopying
  • Ink cartridges for your printer
  • Paper for printing and photocopying
Travel Allowance

A travel allowance helps with extra travel costs you may face that are associated with your disability or chronic illness, for example taxi fares to and from your home address and university.

So, how can I access it?

The most important thing is to get your application in! Once you’ve let the DSA team know you’re interested in accessing support, they’ll guide you through the process and contact you with information at every stage. Your university’s disability service will also help guide you through the process, so get in touch with them as soon as you’ve accepted a place on your course.

The process itself can be broken down into four steps:

  1. Application
  2. Assessment
  3. Receive confirmation
  4. Access support

How do I apply?

Applying through Student Finance England (SFE)

If you’re receiving Student Finance, all you need to do is sign in to your Student Finance account. The application for DSA should be on your ‘to-do list’. Here’s an example of where to find the to-do list page, and what it will look like.

If it’s not yet on your to-do list, you can select ‘change your circumstances’ and then follow the instructions to apply.

Applying through NHS Business Service Authority (NHSBSA)

If you are receiving or are eligible for the NHS Student Bursary Scheme, you must apply through the Student Services Bursary Online Support System (BOSS). The process is very similar to the Student Finance route so whilst the logos might be different, the process is the same.

As the NHS bursary funding is available to medical and dental students in the later stages of your course, or for non-medical healthcare students who started before 1 August 2017, many medical students will likely be applying under the Student Finance portal. You can find out more about the NHS Bursary scheme via the NHSBSA website.

Applying if you are not eligible through SFE or NHSBSA

If you are not receiving Student Finance or receiving NHS Bursary Scheme support, you just need to fill out a Student Finance form (form DSA1).

How do I know if I’m eligible?

Although you do have to show medical evidence to access DSA support, this shouldn’t stop you from applying. Letting the DSA team know you’d like to access additional support at university is the first and most important step.

If you face barriers at university, there should be support available to you. Your university will have its own support systems, but it’s always best to begin by applying for the DSA.

When should I apply?

You can begin your application as soon as you have a place confirmed through UCAS. If you apply early, you’ll have everything sorted way ahead of time and don’t need to spend your first term getting the support set up!

Applying early can also help your university and medical school because your DSA needs assessment report can act as evidence for your reasonable adjustments, such as extra time during exams. You don’t need a DSA needs assessment report to access reasonable adjustments – your university will likely have its own process – but having your DSA needs assessment report already completed can often reduce delays in accessing support.

How do I arrange an assessment?

Once your application has been approved, you’ll receive an email from Student Finance or NHSBSA confirming that you’re eligible for the DSA. Attached to this email will be an important document called your DSA1 confirmation letter (here’s an example of what that will look like!). Make sure you keep hold of this letter as it proves your eligibility and guides you through arranging a needs assessment.

It’s important to remember that a needs assessment is not a test; it’s an opportunity for you to openly discuss your learning needs and the barriers you face in accessing your course.

To arrange your assessment:

  1. Find your nearest assessment centres
  2. Choose where you would like to be assessed. The choice is completely up to you, and don’t worry about the price because your assessment is entirely paid for by Student Finance.
  3. Book your assessment at your chosen centre. Most assessment centre websites will have a page where you can book an assessment online, but they will also have an email address and phone number so you can contact them directly to book or discuss any questions you have before your assessment.
What happens in a needs assessment?

Your needs assessment will take place in a supportive, informal environment by assessors who have specialist expeirnece in supporting students in higher education. It is completely confidential. Your needs assessor will give you space to talk about your past experiences in education and any strategies you’ve developed to address the challenges you may have faced. Once they know more about you, your learning needs and the barriers you face, the assessor will suggest the support that could benefit you.

The support could focus on areas such as:

  • Reading and writing
  • Taking notes in lectures
  • Speaking to people over the phone, face-to-face, or in a group setting
  • Hearing and auditory processing
  • Practical work
  • Using the library
  • Attendance
What should I bring to the assessment?

It may be useful to make a list of things you find challenging, so that you remember what to discuss in the assessment. This is your opportunity to talk through all the barriers you face in accessing your education.

You might find it helpful to ask yourself some questions before you attend your assessment, for example:

  • What support have I received so far in my education?
  • What have I struggled with in the past but maybe not had any support with?
  • What will my course be like?
  • How will I be assessed?

It may be helpful to bring examples that help your assessor understand what your course is like. This could include a copy of your timetable, a course outline, and any lecture notes you have.

If you are in receipt of the NHS Bursary, you may wish to send your assessor ahead of time a copy of the NHSBSA Disabled Students Allowances (DSAs) guidance, or take along a copy yourself to your assessment.

How long will my assessment take?

We recommend allowing up to 2 hours for the assessment, but they are often completed sooner.

What happens next?

Once you’ve finished your assessment, your assessor will write up a draft report and send it to you within ten working days. If you’re happy with the draft report, they will send a copy to the DSA team for their approval.

Your needs assessment report should look something like this.

You will probably be asked if you give consent for your needs assessor to send a copy of the report to your university’s disability team. We recommend that you give this consent, as it will help your university best support you to put in place the recommendations that have been made in your report.

How will I receive confirmation of my DSA support?

Once the DSA team have looked at the evidence on your needs assessment report, they’ll confirm the support they’ve agreed to fund. They will send you a confirmation email and, like before, there will be a letter attached. This letter is your DSA2 entitlement letter and this is your key to getting the support set up.

If you’d like some support arranging your DSA, your university will be there to help. Just forward your DSA2 to your university’s disability services and they’ll get in touch with you to go through your DSA2 letter. If you’re not sure how to find your university’s disability services, you can usually find their details by searching online; just search the university’s name followed by ‘disability services’.

How do I access my DSA support?

You made it! Time to begin taking up your support.

You can find all the information you’ll need on the second page onwards of your DSA2 letter.

For support through Student Finance

If you’re receiving support through Student Finance, all you need to do is contact the suppliers listed on these pages and they’ll begin putting your support in place. Here’s an example of the information you’re looking for!

For support through NHSBSA

If you’re receiving support through NHSBSA, for your non-medical helpers (for example, mentoring or study skills support) all you need to do is contact the suppliers; here’s an example of the information you’re looking for.

If you have been awarded equipment and/or software, you can contact your suppliers as soon as NHSBSA have paid the equipment cost into your account. You will need to do this within two months from the date you received your funding. Remember to send proof of purchase back to NHSBSA too! Here’s an example of the information you’re looking for.

"I have noticed many things I didn't before the support. Now I understand I should not be harsh to myself all the time and that my course is not as intimidating as I once thought. I applied for DSA support to overcome procrastination and improve my confidence but now I feel I have gained a lot more than that. The sessions gave me an opportunity to see things from a different angle, understand myself better and release my negative emotions."

Sibley Slater*, BSc Nursing

DSA support allocated: Assistive Technology and Training (12 hours), Specialist Mentoring (20 hours per year)

*Name changed to protect anonymity

Glossary of key terms and acronyms

You may come across some new terms, abbreviations and acronyms during your journey through the DSA application process. Here are some of the key definitions you may want to know:

AS Autistic Spectrum
AT Assistive Technology
ATSP Assistive Technology Service Provider
BOSS Bursary Online Support System
CRN Customer Reference Number
DSA 1 Letter sent by the funding body confirming their acceptance of your application for DSA
DSA 2 Letter sent by the funding body confirming their approval of DSA funded support (Notification of Entitlement)
EU Student A student whose home address is in a country which is within the European Union
Home Student A student whose home address is in a country which is within the United Kingdom
MH Mental Health
NA Needs Assessment
NAC Needs Assessment Centre
NAR Needs Assessment Report
NHSBSA NHS Business Services Authority
NMH Non-medical Help
PG Postgraduate
SAAS Student Awards Agency for Scotland
SFE Student Finance England
SFW Student Finance Wales
SLC Student Loans Company
SpLD Specific Learning Difference
Student Finance NI Student Finance Northern Ireland
UG Undergraduate