Frequently asked questions
We have compiled a set of frequently asked questions to help you find further information on DSA.
What is Disabled Students' Allowance (DSA)?
DSA is additional funding which may be available to meet any additional study related costs that a student may incur, as a consequence of their disability. Students with a range of disabilities can apply, including those with visual or hearing impairments, physical disabilities, mental health issues, some unseen disabilities and specific learning difficulties such as ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, and Asperger's syndrome.
You will discuss your requirements with an Advisor who will then write a Needs Assessment report which outlines any equipment, personal human support, training or other support that you might need.
DSA funding can only be used to cover the cost of things that you need directly related to your disability and how it affects your academic studies. It cannot be used to pay for things that all students need, like rent or tuition fees.
DSA is non-means tested, and is an award paid for by your Funding Agency.
More information is available from your Funding Agency by visiting the links below:
- Student Awards Agency For Scotland (SAAS)
- Student Finance England
- Student Finance NI - Northern Ireland
- studentfinace.ie - Republic of Ireland
- Student Finance Wales
Am I entitled to DSA?
If you meet the UK residence criteria, are studying at degree level and have a disability, illness or specific learning difficulty then there is a good chance that you could be eligible.
Generally, you have to be:
- A full time undergraduate student, studying for HNC, HND, a degree or equivalent.
- A full time postgraduate student, studying for a full time post-graduate course.
- A part time degree student, working to at least 50% of a full time Higher Education qualification.
There are some exceptions to the above. Please call in and see an Advisor or contact your Funding Body for further advice on your individual circumstances.
What can DSA funding cover?
At the time of writing, DSA funding is divided into three parts:
- Basic Allowance (sometimes referred to as 'Small items of equipment') - These are general costs related to your course and incurred as a result of your disability e.g. photocopying and other consumable expenses, Braille paper, etc. This allowance is claimed annually.
- Equipment Allowance (Large items) - This allowance is used to buy any recommended equipment required to undertake your course, due to your disability. This can include computing equipment and software, a digital recorder and other technical aids. This claim is usually only made once for a course being undertaken and the equipment purchased under DSA does remain the property of the student upon completion of the course.
- Non Medical Personal Helpers Allowance - This pays for personal helpers e.g. note takers, proof readers and also study skills support. It does not cover disability related expenditure that you would need even if you were not a student.
Please note that every DSA application and assessment is individual to the student, and recommendations are based on that individual student's needs, related to their disability and course.
There should not be an automatic assumption that any of the above three categories will form part of the recommendations in your report.
How do I apply for DSA? Can you help me?
Yes, however this can be a lengthy process, so you should try and set things in motion as soon as possible. You should contact the Disability Service at the Edinburgh campus, or the Student Adviser at the Scottish Borders campus, and they will advise you on your eligibility and help you apply for funding.
You will have to provide some evidence of your disability or learning difficulty. This might be a letter or medical certificate from a doctor or other health professional, or a report from an Educational Psychologist.
Do not be concerned if you do not have this written evidence. A Disability Advisor will advise you where and how to get this. In the case of specific learning difficulties, the Disability Service at Heriot-Watt can arrange for you to be assessed by an Educational Psychologist in the University.
A DSA application form needs to be completed and signed by a member of staff in the Disability Team at Heriot-Watt, regardless of which Funding Body you are applying to. These are available to download from your Funding Body website, and we keep a supply of these in the office.
When can I apply for DSA?
You can apply for DSA at any time. If you are a new student, you can start the process of applying for DSA as soon as you have a firm offer of a place at Heriot-Watt University.
However, if you have complex support requirements (whether you have a conditional or unconditional offer), you should contact the Disability Advisor at Heriot Watt as soon as possible. You can also apply once you have started, or even if you are a number of years into your course at Heriot-Watt.
It can take a number of weeks for you to go through the DSA process, depending on when you apply, and for your application to be fully processed and all support put in place.
If you need support before your DSA is finalised, speak to the Disability Service and we will try to help.
What is a Needs Assessment?
First time applicants for DSA have to undergo a needs assessment to determine what additional expenses arise because of disability, impairment or specific learning difficulty.
This is an informal and confidential discussion with the assessor.
A needs assessment involves writing a report based on the evidence provided and explanation of difficulties incurred when accessing your university studies/learning. The report will look at all aspects of your study and difficulties, and make appropriate recommendations for support, in order to ensure you can access all areas of your course.
This may include such things as assistive technology, a scribe, note taking, proof reading, and study skills support.
A needs assessment takes between one and two hours, and takes place at your home campus. The assessment involves you and the assessor discussing your particular difficulties and needs, and if appropriate a demonstration of any equipment and software.
The assessor will talk about your disability or specific learning difficulty, your time at school and what, if any, support was in place there. They will also discuss how your disability may affect your study at University.
The assessor has to write a detailed report as a result of your needs assessment, and therefore will be making notes as you talk. Do not be concerned about this – we are only trying to get down as much information as possible, in order to justify any recommendations that you agree with the assessor.
Once the report has been fully typed up, you will have a chance to read over and approve the report, before it is submitted to your Funding Body.
Can I claim DSA for every year of my course?
If you have been recommended “large items” such as equipment, these can only be claimed once. Small items, such as funding towards printing costs, can be claimed every year.
Any Non Medical Personal Help (NMHP), such as scribes and readers, recommended in your assessment, is reviewed every year, at a one-to-one meeting between yourself and a Disability Advisor. Ideally, your reliance on NMPH should reduce, and allow you to become a more independent learner.
If I have been recommended equipment, how do I get/pay for this?
This can differ depending on what Funding Body you are applying to.
If you are a SAAS student, the simplest way is to agree to Heriot-Watt acting as your supplier. There are a number of advantages to you going this route, and these will be fully explained to you during your needs assessment.
These advantages include you receiving your equipment quicker, with all software & hardware pre-installed. If required, all extended warranties and insurance are put in place. We will also submit all receipts to your Funding Body (SAAS) on your behalf.
Some Funding Bodies prefer to buy the equipment for you, and it is their decision which supplier is used (we may supply two quotes for them to choose from).
The last option, which again depends on your Funding Body is, is to buy the equipment yourself. You will have to stick to the equipment recommended in your report, although there may be an option to upgrade some equipment at your own cost, such as the specification of a laptop – this must be agreed with your Funding Authority first. There are a number of disadvantages to going this route, which the assessor will explain fully at your assessment.
If I received equipment as a result of my Needs Assessment, do I get to keep it?
Yes, the equipment was bought with your DSA funding, so it is yours to keep.
I have Non Medical Personal Help recommended. How do I arrange this?
If your needs assessment recommends that you receive some Non Medical Personal Help (NMPH), this is normally arranged via a member of the Disability Service at Heriot-Watt.
The cost of NMPH support is usually paid in arrears by your Funding Agency, after sending in receipts showing hours worked, and rate of pay per hour, and signed by the NMPH.
It may be possible to employ your own NMPH, and for them to be paid directly by your Funding Body. Please speak to a Disability Advisor about this.
Do I get teaching/learning and exam adjustments as part of my DSA?
Yes, this area is referred to as “Reasonable Adjustments” and will be covered both when agreeing your Learning Profile with a Disability Advisor, regardless of whether you apply for DSA. If you do apply for DSA, this is also covered and recorded during your needs assessment as well, again on an individual basis for each student depending on their disability related needs.
Examples of Reasonable Adjustments are:
- extra time
- providing a reader or scribe
- supervised rest breaks
- use of an individual room
- use of a computer or other equipment
- modified test papers, for example large print, different colours or Braille
What do I do if I am not happy with the final assessment and recommendations?
At the end of your assessment, the assessor and the student should have agreed on all aspects of the recommended support, so there should be no surprises once you are emailed the report to read over and approve.
The assessor has an obligation to make a fair assessment of your needs, based on their experience, guidelines set by The Scottish Government, and all the information you give them.
If you have any concerns at all, or disagree with your report, please contact the assessor before approving the report. We will then go over the recommendations again, and explain how they were reached, in an effort to reach agreement.
If you still cannot reach agreement with the assessor, you will then be directed to the Director of Student Support & Accommodation, who will discuss the report with you and the assessor.
If necessary and as a last resort, the report can be referred to your Funding Body, who may appoint an independent arbitrator to look at your assessment.
What support will be offered to me if I am not eligible for DSA (e.g. an International or some Part Time students)?
The University will still be able to provide some advice and support for EU and International students, or UK students who do not qualify for DSA. Please contact the Disability Service for more information. We will discuss your individual requirements to determine what provision you require.
The Disability Service has a small equipment loan bank and some funding which may be able to be used to support disabled students who are not eligible for DSA. Relevant supporting evidence is required, and each request for loan equipment is assessed on an individual basis.
International students should also contact their home government for information on any funding that may be available to you as a student with a disability or medical condition.
As International students will not have access to the financial support that the UK Government provides for students who are residents of the United Kingdom it is essential that you take into account how you may have to cover some or all of the costs of any support you may need while at University, from the financial resources that are available to you.