Please note - this page is a description of our experiences in 2002, and is of historical value only. The procedures we followed may not be relevant today. I have no knowledge of current practice.
Our son, George, was diagnosed as Dyspraxic when he was nine years old. It was recommended at that time that he should have the use of a word processor to help with his school work.
It took about 18 months, but a Tandy word processor was eventually provided for him by our local education authority. He took this with him to secondary school, and was provided with another when he eventually wore the first one out. However, on leaving school, the word processor had to be returned.
He then went to sixth form college to study for his A Levels. He only had to wait about three weeks before he was provided with a Toshiba laptop computer (it had to be ordered for him). Again, on leaving college, this had to be returned.
We did not find it so easy to provide for his needs at university. I give below a brief description of how we obtained Disabled Students Allowance funding for him in the hope that other parents may find the information of help.
I must emphasise, however, that this is only our personal experience. Each student has different needs. Different LEAs/Access Centres/Universities have different procedures. You may not encounter our difficulties, or you may encounter different ones. Procedures may have changed since George went to University.
- We began by asking for information when we visited various stands at the Higher Education Fair held in Manchester in April 2001.
- We obtained and read the booklet "Bridging the Gap: A guide to the disabled students' allowances (DSAs) in higher education in 2002/2003". There may be a more up-to-date version of this booklet available.
- We made a point of speaking to the Disability Officer or Learning Support Department on university Open Days, as well as informing department staff of George's needs.
- When George completed his UCAS application form, he gave a brief description of his support needs in the appropriate part of the form.
By March 2002, George had learned that he had been awarded a scholarship to study at Aberystwyth University, and advised UCAS that he had accepted his place there.
I now telephoned our Local Education Authority to ask what I needed to do next. I was advised to write in with as much information as possible and they would let us know. On the 23rd March 2002 I sent them a letter together with copies of George's initial diagnosis report and all supplementary reports since that date.
When I heard nothing, I telephoned and they confirmed that they had received the application, but would do nothing with it until all the HE1 eligibility forms they had received had been processed.
Towards the end of July, (two days after George had received confirmation of the amount of tuition fees he would have to pay and the student loan he was entitled to) we finally received a letter advising us that his DSA needs would be funded by the LEA.
What Came Next
The letter advised us to get in touch with the university. We did so, only to be told that the Disability Officer was on holiday. When we finally contacted him (mid August), he simply referred us to the National Federation of Access Centres to be assessed. (Now the National Network of Assessment Centres.)
We looked on the website and contacted our nearest Centre, Manchester. The gentleman on the telephone said he would send us a form to complete and return. They could then make an appointment for George to be assessed. When I asked how long this might take, I was told that he "might" get an appointment early in October! - after George had gone to Aberystwyth.
This was totally unacceptable to us, so we contacted the Buxton Centre. The administrator took our details over the telephone and made an immediate appointment. She apologised for not fitting us in before 30th August, as the assessor was now on holiday!
The assessment duly took place and a report produced about two weeks later. This report included a full list of recommended equipment, duly sourced and priced. After minor alterations George agreed the report, and copies were sent to him at university, the university's Disability Officer and the LEA.
At the beginning of October, the LEA confirmed that they would pay for all the equipment out of his Disabled Student Allowance. The order was placed with the Company used for costing, and a delivery date agreed with George. Then, one week before delivery was expected, we received a telephone call to say that the company was going into liquidation and they could not supply George with any of his requirements.
We immediately contacted the LEA to find out where we went from here. The LEA advised that we would need to find a new supplier and, as they could not recommend any one firm over another, we should contact the Access Centre who had done George's assessment. The LEA would only need to be contacted again to confirm that they would pay if the revised costings were substantially different from the ones already agreed.
I tried to contact the Access Centre. However it was now half term in further education colleges (where the Buxton Access Centre is based). The administrator was on holiday. The Centre Manager was not in, and, though I left messages, my calls were not returned.
I finally made contact more than a week later. I was given the name of another supplier and contacted them. The order was placed, and the supplier has been in contact with George to say that delivery will be made on the 6th December - one week before the Christmas holidays begin!
Meanwhile . . .
Although George was studying a computer course and he also had access to computers around the campus, he did not have computer access in lecture theatres. For the first term at university he struggled to take notes by hand, and then he had to type them up immediately before he forgot what he had written down, though he was able to hire a laptop later.
And finally . . .
A laptop computer, printer, scanner, voice recorder and associated software arrived on Friday 6th December. The university broke up for the Christmas holidays on the 14th December. However, by his final year, the computer was showing its age and had to be returned to the suppliers several times for repair under warranty.
The university did not demonstrate a willingness to assist George with his personal needs. After being sent from one department to another, he hired a laptop computer for the purpose of taking lecture notes. He was advised that he would be charged for this at the rate of ten pounds per week (which the LEA reimbursed). However, when he returned it, he was actually only charged two thirds of this amount because of his disabled student status.
Was it worth it?
After four years of hard work, George achieved a very well-deserved First and is now a B.Eng(Hons) in Software Engineering. Now he has to find his way in the workplace!
George's difficulties are minor compared to some. He has only struggled to keep up with others at university. Other students, with more severe problems, will find life and/or study impossible. Though the failure of the supply company could not have been foreseen, much more could have been done by the LEA and the university to ensure that known and documented learning needs were met by the start of the first semester.
What can be done to make the process easier in the future?
The procedure for students applying for a university place in 2002 meant that they could not be assessed until they had accepted that university place. This meant that the Assessment Centres were extremely overworked for a relatively short period of time, and then had little to do until the following August. According to recent DfES publications, it would seem that plans are being put forward to enable students to apply for assessment earlier so that their needs can be met from the start of the academic year. However, no assessment can take place until the LEA confirms that they will provide funding, and this was the major hold-up in our case.
Information on current assistance available for disabled students is available from the Government website.