What happens during a DSA needs assessment?

Disabled Students' Allowances (DSAs) can provide additional support and funding to UK students in higher and further education. It is extra funding designed to ensure a level playing field for disabled students and can be used to pay for specialist software, computer hardware and a range of study support and extra resources.

Use our free HE Support Checker to find out if you could be eligible for extra support at university due to a health condition or impairment. If you are eligible you can book your DSA Needs Assessment with AbilityNet or check out other DSA Assessment providers.

The funding comes from the Government and AbilityNet provides one part of the process - a one-to-one Needs Assessment with one of our assessors. They will identify your needs and prepare a report that recommends the extra support you need. But what happens at an assessment? And how should you prepare for it?

A Needs Assessment is not the first step in the DSA process. Some people will already have extra support at school or college and may have had help with the DSA application process. However others may not have applied for extra support in the past and will have to go through the application process.

What support will work best for you?

Once you have applied and been told you are eligible for extra funding you will be told you need an assessment, using one of the many centres provided by businesses and charities around the UK.

AbilityNet is the largest not-for-profit provider of assessments - we have numerous centres and you can choose one that is near your home or your place of study.

You can use the form on our website to book your DSA Needs Assessment and upload relevant supporting documents. You will then be given an appointment date, time and location. This is a quick process so there's no waiting around and you can speak to our staff at any time if you have questions.

"It's just a chat"

Some people will be concerned that the assessment is a test of some kind - that they will have to prove their disability or be challenged to demonstrate how it affects them. The good news is that it’s basically just a friendly chat.

You have already been approved for funding and our assessor is there as an independent expert, using their skills and knowledge to advise you on the best options and make recommendations to the funding body. So you will be in safe hands for the duration of the assessment.

They will explain the equipment and other resources available to you an you may even be given the chance to test out some of the equipment. The assessor is not trying to catch you out, so don’t feel self-conscious about asking questions and engaging with the technology.

Identifying the effect on your education

The assessor will take you through different aspects of higher education study and ask how your circumstances affect you in these areas. Some won’t be relevant to you but they will put the questions to you anyway as part of a protocol. Once your particular issues have been identified and their severity gauged, the assessor will propose options that could benefit you, for you to choose from.

The categories include, but are not limited to:

  • Reading printed material
  • Producing written work like assignments and exams
  • Taking notes in lectures
  • Speaking such as using a phone, face-to-face or in groups
  • Hearing
  • Practical aspects of your course
  • Using the library
  • Communication and social situations
  • Attendance (some people's disabilities may leave them too ill to attend college some days)
  • Work placements

As an example, for someone with dyslexia who struggles to take notes in lectures, a laptop might be offered. In a more acute case, a voice recorded or livescribe pen may be recommended.

The assessor informs you of your options and suggests solutions to suit your needs, and you let them know whether you agree with their suggestions. You can mention if you’ve tried them before or if you have any concerns you would like to discuss.

Remember, the assessor will have already been through your medical evidence and will have an idea of what they are able to offer, so you are not in a position of needing to persuade or convince them. With the previous example, you could ask for a human note taker instead of a voice recorder, but if your report demonstrates that this wouldn’t be necessary, the DSA may not approve it.

It's a positive experience

We have lots of positive feedback form our students but we also picked up lots of positive feedback from people in the Student Room forum about their DSA assessment (which may not have been with AbilityNet):

“It was a very positive and supportive experience. Probably the nicest part of the entire DSA process!”

“Mine [assessors] were lovely, she already had a sheet filled out with everything they thought would benefit me and what I ended up being recommended was very close to it bar a few things I turned down because I had tried them before and they hadn't worked out, such as a scribe in exams.”

“It was really useful and the assessor came up with some ideas that I otherwise wouldn't have had. For example, she suggested I get some hours of proofreading to ensure that my essays look nicely formatted as that's something I can't actually see.”

Once complete, the assessor will write up a report on your assessment to specify the support they have recommended. The funding body will then send you a letter confirming what the assessor has been able to secure for you.

Further information:

For those with a medical condition unsure of where to get the right evidence, the funding bodies have produced a ‘Disability Evidence Form’, which a GP can fill in with details of how your disability affects your study. These can be downloaded online and are often processed more easily than alternatives.

Many higher education students do not get the extra support they need to succeed in higher education, including extra help from their university and DSAs. Use our free HE Support Checker to find out if you could be eligible for extra support at university due to a health condition or impairment.