Monday, 14 April 2014

Vital Disabled Student Support to be Cut. Save DSA!

Spread the word. Tell your MP. Write blogs. Let people know what is happening. We must try to stop this.
Share and Retweet this #ProtectDSA.

For further information please see this blog for a summary of the changes and a follow up post with suggestions on what to do about it.

After becoming disabled as a teenager, I went to university, obtained a first class degree, then completed a PhD.  While I worked extremely hard, none of this would have been possible without the support of Disabled Student Allowance (DSA), which covers the extra costs for equipment and assistance disabled students may require in order to study at university.

This is why I was aghast to learn that the government has just announced plans to cut DSA.
Couched under the language of "modernisation", "targeting funds at those who need it most", "fairness", is hidden the reality of an estimated 60 to 70% cut in funding.
At a time when Higher Education funding is at its lowest, the cost is being shunted onto universities, ill equipped and unprepared to deal with this.  This is a bit like suddenly asking employers to take over the funding and admin for Access to Work.

The government plans to make several key changes of which I will highlight just three:

1) DSA will no longer pay for "basic" computers and peripherals (even though required due to disability). This is justified by saying that "96% of students already own a laptop or netbook".
Bizarrely this assumption is based entirely on a marketing survey conducted by the NUS for the company Endsleigh in 2013. This was conducted by email and only reached 1704 students, just 1% of the UK student population. The proportion of disabled students who responded is not stated.
Given the repercussions of this decision one would have hoped that the government would undertake a full and proper analysis of the computer equipment privately available to disabled students entering university.

When I was doing my undergraduate degree, I was often too ill to leave my room. I was therefore unable to take advantage of the numerous public computers available onsite, often a mere 200 yards away.  A private computer was indispensable, due to my illness and disability and I would not have completed my degree without it.
DSA funded a private PC for me. BUT, it wasn't anything fancy and so under these proposals would no longer be granted.

I am certainly not unique.  The National Association of Disability Practitioners submitted a report to the BIS call for evidence in summer 2013 which explained in detail why disabled students may not be able to use the IT facilities provided on campus and justifying the provision of such equipment to disabled individuals where needed.

I very much doubt every single new disabled student arriving at university in 2015 will own a computer. What will happen to those disabled students similar to me? Will they fail where I did not simply due to a change in funding policy?

2) The government will only fund the most specialist support workers.
When digging a bit deeper this turns out to be bands 3 and 4 of the non medical help services.
This means that the following help will NOT be funded:

  • practical Support assistant
  • library Support assistant
  • reader
  • Scribe
  • Workshop/laboratory assistant
  • Sighted Guide
  • proof reader
  • Study assistant 
  • examination Support Workers
  • Manual Notetakers 
The government says it is encouraging disabled students to be more "independent learners". I feel they are completely missing the point of non medical helpers. They do not do the learning for the student. As much as is possible they enable the student to do the learning independently on the same level as any other student. 
While teaching staff should strive to make their teaching materials accessible, this does not remove the need for these support workers.
Likewise technology cannot always fully remove the need for all of these support staff. Try getting voice recognition software for advanced mathematics. Heck, we even use a special specific word processing program!

3) Students with Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLD) (eg dyslexia & dyspraxia) look set to be hit hard as they will only receive support "where their support needs are considered to be more complex". This by definition means that those with slightly less complex needs will lose all support altogether. This will have a hugely detrimental effect. 

One final comment: DSA was the first time I ever underwent an assessment of my disability needs. This was when I discovered that there were ways round some of the difficulties I was encountering. 
For instance I was having huge trouble using a normal mouse. I was given a trackball. Something so simple, yet it revolutionised my academic work and relieved a great deal of frustration!
The DSA assessment process in itself is hugely important and can help disabled students discover what would be useful to them during their time at university, be it physical aids, computer aids, software, support workers or proper supportive seating. It is a mistake to assume that disabled students simply know this. It is vital that this continue.

DSA is a hugely successful scheme. It has been praised by the National Audit office for recruiting and retaining disabled students. It is also effective. The Equality Challenge Unit (2013) statistical report shows a higher proportion of DSAs claimants attained a First/2:1 than those who did not receive DSAs.
These cuts seem set to undo all this and steal away the opportunities we enjoyed from all future disabled students.
The National  Association for Disabled Practitioners is calling to protect the support and the NUS has condemned the decision.

For further information please see this blog for a summary of the changes and a follow up post with suggestions on what to do about it.

Spread the word. Tell your MP. Write blogs. Let people know what is happening. We must try to stop this.

You can write to your MP online here.
Please also sign the e-petition here.
Share and Retweet this and use #ProtectDSA


  1. Yeah, didn't finally get a SpLD diagnosis until last year, which was about 30 years too late for my degree, but support would have made things so much easier - and not just for me, lecturers trying to decipher my dyspraxic scrawl would probably have been eternally grateful ;) Cerrtainly couldn't do a degree without support nowadays. It's like the Access to Work cuts (in fact it seems to be a recycled version of the AtW cuts from a couple of years ago*), cutting for cuttings sake, even when the cost of the support is far exceeded by the return on investment.

    * that would be the AtW cuts they had to back down on because of the disastrous fall in take-up.

    1. Agreed. This is very similar to the attacks on Access to Work. Just like those it makes no sense. Even taking a purely hard headed financial approach, Disabled Student Allowance pays for itself many times over. Disabled people who don't get qualifications are far less likely to be employed. The exact figures are easily found.
      With the government so eager to push disabled people into work, this is incomprehensible. It is stopping disabled people even getting out of the starting blocks.

  2. I've signed the petition and spread the word.
    This government will not stop until they have the disabled ready to die! Their hatred of disabled people goes really deep. They want to purge us. Well it's not going to work because too many of us want to live and do something with our lives, even if it's just spreading the word about the discrimination and petitions.

    1. Thank you. Even the smallest gesture can make a difference.

  3. I will sign and support your cause but the government isn't doing this to save money, they get off on seeing people suffer. That is the only reason they are doing this.

    1. Thank you. And no, I see no sense in this decision. It is financially unsound.

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  5. #ProtectDSA I feel so angry and helpless. I am not going to give up but Its one thing after the other , they have no shame!. I have been starting to re-train after 12 painful and isolating years living with SLE , taking two short accredited courses, to see if I could complete them, foggy brain and health allowing I mean. They gave me the confidence to even hope that I would be able to take up Higher Ed, all to help me appear a more attractive prospect for prospective future employers, hoping that they will ignore my illness, its unpredictability and the debilitating way it affects me and be impressed with my training and qualifications...... ta da

    Each week that I have been able to get up and attend my courses has been so liberating, one slow step at a time, it has been helping my self esteem and building my confidence and I was doing it on my terms no pressure, feeling I would have the safety net of DSA to turn to when I started the HE. Now what ?

    Now what for those who are not quite ready for study but will be in the future ?, What now for those who will be affected mid study ?

    This government are so single minded in their quest, and I donot think the general public really understand how the ConDems are moving the goal posts, and unlevelling the playing field again. everything that has been fought for, Inclusion, equality, is being eroded under the guise of austerity
    I have shared this, I hope your blog and the petition goes viral.

    Big hug to thank you for all the work that you do.

  6. I have written my own blogposts about this at summarising the changes and then making suggestions of what people can do.

    I have linked to your blogpost along with social media stuff in updates to my second blogpost.

    Now I'm off to write to my MP.

    1. Thanks. Have added your links in to my post.

  7. I got a first class BSc and an MA, with the help of DSA, but actually, I agree about the 'basic computer'. (Even though I have had two good computers through DSA myself.) That should not include any specialist software, such as your own copy of software other students may have to access on cluster PCs. Anyone who really arrives at university with no computer at all can apply for access to learning funds and get a refurbished computer from someone like Partners IT for around £150. The human support is a much bigger problem and can be well outside of the average student budget to replace.

    My experience of the assessment process was radically the opposite of yours. I sat there while they told me I needed a bunch of things I didn't, based on preconceived notions of what people with my disability need, rather than what I told them. I got a digital recorder and various pieces of software I did not want, need or have the ability to use (due to my disability). I could source much better computer equipment for the same price as their preferred suppliers, but they certainly didn't make it easy. There was no actual 'assessing' involved that I could detect. In the end, I wrote the assessment with the help of a knowledgeable advocate, the assessment organisation adopted it word-for-word and charged DSA £500 for it! They also charged something like £100 for in home set up that I told them from the outset I absolutely did not want under any circumstances. If they could get rid of waste like that, they might not have to make such heavy cuts in essential help like scribes and study support.

    1. Access to learning is not designed to pay for computer equipment. If someone is just about making ends meet then they would not be eligible. On the other hand they won't have a spare £150 lying around for a computer either.
      DSA does exactly what it is meant to: pay the extra costs due to disability. If that is a basic computer, then that should be paid for. Or are you advocating that disabled students and employees should themselves shoulder a part of the costs of adaptations?

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  9. I am a part-time post-grad student who returned to studying after 16 years. I get funding for two disabilities (dyslexia and a long-term autoimmune illness - Behcet's). I would not have been able to get through my first year without the help I got from the DSA, both kit, the training to use that kit and helpers at uni. I have been very ill this term, and its been a real struggle at times due to a long Behcet's flare up. If I had not had my laptop & software at home and my support helpers (proof reading and non medical helper) I would have dropped out because I would have fallen too far behind. I am very concerned that if I do not get the same type of assistance - to put me on a level playing field with my peers - as I did this year, next year I might not be able to get through the dissertation, let alone the final major project.