Disabled students

Many disabled students already face challenges during their time at university or college that students without a known disability do not. The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic may be intensifying many of these issues and raising new ones.

These case studies describe some of the ideas and practices that universities and colleges have put in place to respond quickly to the needs of disabled students during this time.

These interventions have been developed at pace and have not yet been evaluated for effectiveness. Their inclusion is not intended to stipulate particular approaches or endorse the actions of specific institutions. They are offered in the spirit of sharing practice that others may find useful and applicable to their own contexts.

Birmingham City University has replaced face-to-face events with a series of online events for disabled applicants, including a series of short online presentations and Q&A sessions taking place over the course of a week.

Edge Hill University has provided additional training and guidance to staff to help them effectively support disabled students during the pandemic. This includes:  

  • training staff on effectively providing support to students using a variety of video platforms
  • establishing a task force to support academic colleagues to make online lectures and teaching sessions accessible
  • advice from disability support staff to academic and registry colleagues about alternative forms of assessment.

Leeds Beckett University is developing an applicant microsite with information specifically for disabled students.

LincHigher has moved much of its outreach activity to an online training and outreach hub. The hub has been designed to cater to all students, particularly those with additional needs. It is special educational needs friendly, dyslexia-friendly and accessible for students with colour sensitivities.

The university’s careers service (LSE Careers) has been sending regular updates and communications to students about careers and employability via the Disability Service. LSE Careers regularly shares information with the Disability and Counselling Services, which is used to create new resources and further inform interactions with students.

The university has also published a Q&A focusing on accessing adjustments throughout the online recruitment process and while working from home. Sessions on resilience in career planning and results resilience have also been delivered. In addition, blog posts about working from home which set out the support expected from employers have been published. The Careers Service is also developing a virtual panel and networking event featuring disabled alumni for the autumn term.

Ongoing support for disabled students has continued via extended one-to-one appointments delivered via video call or email. The LSE Careers alumni disability mentoring scheme continued remotely during the pandemic and recruitment is now underway for the 2020-21 cohort.

Nottingham Trent University has been offering its services for disabled students remotely during the pandemic, including support for Disabled Students’ Allowances, mental health support and dyslexia study skills provision.

The university carried out a snap satisfaction survey on students accessing these services in May 2020. 99 per cent of respondents said they were satisfied or very satisfied with the university’s remote service delivery. Feedback included:

‘The service has been as helpful as it is in person.’
‘I have received the same sort of help I would receive in normal circumstances. I leave with a clear mind and ability to articulate my thoughts and sentences together.’
‘It has given me vital support and advice when I needed it the most and has made me feel listened to and more positive.’

Staff are now considering ways to continue the university’s digital offering and maintain high service satisfaction rates.

As the Open University is a distance learning provider, its careers service is designed to be delivered online, including individual guidance, regular webinars and web forums, careers fairs, virtual internships and insight days.

For one-on-one appointments, disabled students can request flexible timings and ask for adjustments in advance. The university offers web forums with a specific focus on disability, and webinars on themes relating to disability, such as asking for reasonable adjustments and job seeking for students with autism.

Staff receive training on supporting disabled students. A project to improve support for neurodiverse students is underway, including the development of resources to help them and staff prepare for appointments.

The University of Bath’s Disability Service has worked with faculties and academic departments to reinforce the importance of inclusive assessment methods, and contributed to university-wide communications on revised assessment arrangements to highlight the university’s commitment to meeting the needs of its disabled students.

This means that students who have chosen not to disclose a disability received messages about seeking support, as did students already in contact with the service. 

Students with existing significant exam adjustments have been contacted to discuss whether alternative assessments will be required. Working with the university’s assistive technology team, the service has supplied equipment and software to students whose assessment arrangements cannot easily be replicated at home, including those with readers and scribes. Support with installation, one-to-one training and practice sessions are provided for students needing help.

The University of Central Lancashire has an in-house team of British Sign Language (BSL) interpreters. University departments have been working closely with this team to ensure students who use BSL have access to their studies.

Live lectures use software allowing BSL interpreters to be shown alongside the lecture, and pre-recorded lectures have BSL added before they are uploaded to the university’s online platform. Video content is also captioned.

The university has also put in place adjustments for online exams to ensure they are accessible for deaf students. Materials have been adjusted to make English more accessible, and translated into BSL where needed.

Working collaboratively, staff from Disability Services, Programmes and Assessment and Inclusive Learning and Teaching Development have created a set of principles for the online assessment of disabled students.

The 17 principles agreed ensure that online assessment is accessible to a wide range of disabled students and students with other protected characteristics. Practical guidance is given alongside each principle to assist academic colleagues in developing accessible online assessment.

Areas covered include:

  • access to assistive technology
  • a minimum 48-hour window for open book exams
  • clear instruction around word limits and expected writing time
  • the opportunity to test assessment platforms and methods in advance
  • timely access to mitigation for students unable to access the assessment.

The university has also made guidance available to disabled students, to reassure them that their access requirements are being taken into consideration in the planning and delivery of online discussion.

Following further developing, the principles have been adapted to apply to all students, forming a published set of principles of inclusive online assessment. The aim of this work is to ensure that good practice brought in as a response to the coronavirus pandemic is embedded in future practice.

The University of Sheffield is encouraging employers and recruiters to offer a guaranteed interview to any disabled student who meets the essential criteria for a role.

The university is also offering support to employers of University of Sheffield students to design appropriate reasonable adjustments for those who might be vulnerable during lockdown, so they can safely work from home.

The Disability and Dyslexia Support Service and the Careers Service work together to offer careers information, advice and guidance on a range of issues, including recruitment disclosure issues for disabled students during the coronavirus pandemic.

The University of the Arts London has created a core inclusive practice guide for online teaching and learning in collaboration with staff across the university. The university Disability Service's existing inclusion toolkit has also been adapted and expanded to include online learning and inclusive online practice.

The Disability Service's training has been adapted to be delivered online, which is providing opportunities for staff who have not previously been able to attend due to travel constraints.

Following the success of online training, the Disability Service has decided to continue to offer online training in addition to on-site training in future. 

The University of Westminster’s Careers and Employability Service has adapted the delivery of a job hunting workshop aimed at disabled students to a webinar format.

The content of the webinar has been adapted to reflect how recruiters are adapting their recruitment processes during the pandemic. Students are provided with practical tips and example adjustments tailored to the current circumstances. Students are given the opportunity to ask questions and discuss their job hunting experiences at the end of the webinar.

The University of Wolverhampton’s Student Support and Wellbeing team responsible for British Sign Language (BSL) interpreting has been proactive in adapting support. Each Deaf student has a named BSL interpreter, and students can video call using sign language.

The team is providing regular interpreting support for Deaf students via the university’s online learning platform. Remote interpreting in lectures, group meetings and tutorials with staff allows Deaf students to continue to access their learning.

Academic support workers take notes during lectures and work with the BSL team to provide transcripts of pre-recorded lectures. This allows Deaf students to access course material in the event of delay in subtitling recordings.


General information on DSA can be found on the government website.

The SLC has issued guidance for prospective students related to the coronavirus pandemic which includes the latest information on DSA applications.

Information on the Disabled Students’ Commission is published on the Advance HE website. They have published two publications related to coronavirus:

NADP has a dedicated coronavirus resource hub for information impacting staff and disabled students.

NADP has published a report on student concerns and institutional challenges relating to coronavirus.

NADP has published a guide to ensuring webinars are accessible.

NADP and the Network of Autism Practitioners have published advice on studying remotely for autistic students.

The National Deaf Children’s Society has published guidance on ensuring online learning and assessment is accessible to deaf students.

Disability Rights UK’s factsheet on adjustments for disabled students.

The Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services publishes an annual report on the destinations of disabled graduates.

The government runs an Access to Work scheme to help disabled people in employment.

Thomas Pocklington Trust have published a guide for providers on supporting students with vision impairment during the pandemic.

Published 03 July 2020
Last updated 08 October 2020
08 October 2020
New resource from the Thomas Pocklington Trust
14 August 2020
Links to two publications by the Disabled Students' Commission added
10 July 2020
New resource from NADP and the Network of Autism Practitioners

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