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DEMOS Project

Online Materials for Staff Disability Awareness
[Modules] : Admissions

Identification Issues


There are a large number of applicants each year who do not fill in the sections on application forms that relate to disability. Of this number, it is not known how many are disabled applicants who do not wish to disclose and how many are students who have misread the instructions. Students who are not disabled are supposed to enter a zero on the form but if nothing is entered they can only be classified as 'unknown'.

There are also a number of applicants who enter information although they are not covered by the system's definition of disability e.g. applicants who wear glasses. It is difficult therefore to gain an accurate total picture of the number of disabled applicants.

Statistics are available from UCAS upon request and we have provided a table from the application cycle 2001/02. In total during that application cycle 0.82% of applicants declared a disability. This compares with HESA statistics that show 4.1% of students with a disability registered on courses of higher education in the 2000/01 academic year.


The overwhelming numbers of students that disclose disability upon application to university indicate disability under category 1 - 'dyslexia' and category 7 - 'disability not seen'. Category 7 tells us little about the requirements of disabled applicants. Applicants under this section often mention asthma or diabetes. Although a small number of students are debilitated by such conditions, most do not require any consideration on the part of the university (unless they are perhaps collecting information to plan medical services).


I haven't told anybody at home.

- (Anonymous)

Many disabled people are anxious about applying to higher education. They fear that disclosure of their impairment will lead to discrimination. Like many students this might be the first time that they have had to go through an application procedure and many disabled people are afraid to disclose their disability because they feel they will not be given a fair chance. This uncertainty is backed up by the fact that disabled people are underrepresented in many areas of society such as employment and education.

I did think at the time about not disclosing because doing drama can be a practical and very physical course but I am used to telling people about my condition now and people need to know.

- Helen, Drama Student, the University of Manchester

Collecting information on the application form about support from disabled applicants - a social model approach

It should be noted that the current system for collecting information on disabled applicants relies on the medical model of disability, which focuses on the persons' impairment. Impairment tells us little about the disabled population in terms of the educational provision that needs to be considered. Although we can gather information from these categories, what do they tell us about the support that is required by these students? If we know a disabled applicant has a visual impairment, what implications does this have for the university? The approach focuses peoples' minds onto questions such as - "how visually impaired are you?" and "how are you going to cope" rather than more pertinent questions such as "how large does font need to be for you to read it?" or "what changes can the university put in place?"

If we consider the admission of disabled students from a different perspective (using the social model) we might be more interested in the policies, practices and facilities that the university puts in place to support disabled students. As an example; for dyslexic students it might be useful to know that they require the following:

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