Further and Higher Education providers are allowed to ask for evidence of your disability before providing support. Evidence is also needed to access Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSA). DSA is usually provided by the funding body that covers fees and loans. If you are eligible for DSA funding, then the university does not have to provide or fund DSA-able support.
If you can get your evidence sorted early on, it can help make things go better from the start!
Diagnosis or evidence
Access to evidence of disability or diagnostic reports can be difficult and is known to be considerably harder for People of Colour and other marginalised students, due to racism and classism in the education and healthcare systems. There can be considerable financial costs to access diagnostic assessments or requirements to pay for GP and other medical letters.
Check if your Higher Education Provider provides screening and any access or support for full diagnostic assessments of Specific Learning Differences (SpLDs) like dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD or autism as many do provide assistance. Encourage other students to access screenings and hardship funding from universities to help with accessing diagnoses.
As some forms of diagnosis such as SpLDs/autism may not be fully possible during the Coronavirus pandemic, some funding bodies are accepting ‘interim’ or adapted evidence. Contact your university or funding body if you are struggling to get diagnostic evidence to get appropriate advice.
Specifics of Evidence
Equality Act/DDA compliant
Evidence usually needs to be ‘Equality Act 2010 (or DDA in NI) compliant‘ for each impairment/condition meaning it clearly shows:
- The condition or impairment has lasted for least 12 months (or it is expected to last 12 months).
- The condition in its untreated/uncorrected state has a negative impact on your ability to carry out ‘normal’ day to day activities.
If you can get evidence of impact and duration of symptoms you do not necessarily need a named or known diagnosis of a set condition (except for SpLDs and autism spectrum conditions).
If you don’t have compliant evidence yet
It is notable that during the Coronavirus pandemic, some universities and funding bodies are accepting less stringent evidence e.g. just a diagnosis without much further impact/duration. If you don’t have Equality Act compliant evidence and obtaining some will be slow/difficult, submit what you have as it may get through, you can always look for other evidence in the meantime.
Automatic disability status
Some impairments are automatically considered legal disabilities from diagnosis (HIV, Multiple Sclerosis, Cancer and registered visual impairments) and just need to be documented as diagnosed. A visually impaired person can use their ‘Certificate of Visual Impairment (CVI)’ for example.
Specific learning differences (SpLDs)
For specific learning differences (dyslexia, dyspraxia, AD(H)D, dyscalculia, dysgraphia) evidence usually needs to be a full diagnostic report from an appropriate diagnostic practitioner. Contact the university to find out what their evidence requirements are and if they can advise you about the evidence needed for your DSA funding body as this can change over time.
If you have multiple impairments, each generally needs to be documented individually. It is not uncommon to need to use 2-4 separate letters or documents. Sometimes people need to use 7 or 8 pieces of evidence.
Who can provide evidence
For physical impairments, mental health conditions, and long term health conditions, evidence probably needs to come from a recognised medical practitioner (doctor, nurse, physiotherapist, regulated psychologist, occupational therapist).
Alternative medicine practitioner evidence (e.g. osteopath, hypnotherapist) or counsellors are less likely to be accepted. Summary medical notes, copies of prescriptions, Personal Independence Payment (PIP) letters are also not likely to be sufficient.
DSA evidence proformas
You can use a DSA evidence form for your education provider and DSA but the downside of these forms can be that medical people can make arbitrary decisions about you being “properly disabled or not” because they don’t understand the Equality Act. If your funding body isn’t listed below, search online for “DSA evidence + funding-body-name”.
- Scottish SAAS DSA evidence form
- English SFE DSA evidence form
- Welsh SFW DSA evidence form (see bottom of page)
Many students with physical or mental health impairments may already have letters which will be useful as evidence for Higher Education. A combination of letters dated over a year apart can show duration and a range of impacts of an impairment.
If you have helpful clinical practitioners, ask them to document things or write a letter for you as this can be useful for education and other things like applying for benefits. Some disabled people routinely ask clinical practitioners to copy them into letters sent to their GP and ask them to document their findings so they can use this as proof to get support. Clinical practitioners vary in how supportive they can be about this – but if you don’t ask – you don’t even have a chance to get a letter.
Audiograms for deafness
Audiograms for deafness are sometimes accepted on their own, and other times need to have some words outlining the impact of the student’s deafness on day to day life such as difficulty hearing alarms, group conversations or high frequency sounds – it varies.
Obtaining existing healthcare records
If you cannot get letters written, or don’t have copies of existing letters, you can request copies of full or relevant medical records from your GP or relevant NHS Trust using the Data Protection Act 2018 “Right of Access” (sometimes called Subject Access Request). You should receive the information you requested within one calendar month.
Useful evidence information
Demands for more and more evidence
Sometimes demands for more evidence are legitimate, especially if existing evidence is not clear about impact and duration of impairment or doesn’t clearly document atypical symptoms. We know of cases where funding bodies look at NHS condition websites and will consider any uncommon or unstated symptoms to be not-related to the diagnosis unless that is specified.
Some DSA funding bodies have rules that evidence has to be within 1 to 3 years old, and that changes in a condition need to be clearly documented. Sometimes this can be challenged, other times you will have to provide evidence or be left without support – which sucks.
Demands for more detailed evidence can be a tactic Higher Education providers can use to delay or avoid providing support – it can be hard to know if evidence demands are legitimate or just used to create barriers. Evidence demands are commonly used if a student makes a formal/legal complaint because determining someone is not legally disabled is an easy way to wreck a legal complaint. We are not sure if education providers are allowed to require evidence to be recent or not.
Some strategies you can try are:
- Asking for copies of university or funding body decision-maker policies and processes used to decide if disability evidence is acceptable or not.
- For a funding body asking for a team leader or more senior person to review the evidence approval decision (you may have to ask for 2-3 escalations if you are very confident you are correct).
- Making a formal written complaint to the university or funding body about their rejection of valid evidence – only really viable if you are very very sure your evidence is appropriate and may be slower than just getting more evidence.
Where does your evidence go?
Education providers should have a process for restricting how widely your disability evidence is shared within the institution. It is rarely reasonable for you to have to share everything with frontline academic staff although they can try to demand that. Sadly processes around extension requests, extenuating/mitigating circumstances and similar can often still demand evidence separate from disability services if there isn’t a system for recognised disabled students, or disability services to provide a supporting statement for you (both of which are worth asking for). If you experience difficulties with disability services and don’t want to share things with them – that is made very very difficult indeed by most universities. Oxford and Cambridge are also a law unto themselves with university and college systems and sharing information – a whole factsheet on their own.