DEMOS Project

Online Materials for Staff Disability Awareness

Admissions of disabled applicants to Higher Education (HE)

Mike Wray
Project Coordinator
DEMOS Project
All Saints
Manchester M15 6BH

May 2001

Table of Contents



Learning Outcomes

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Clearly one of the most important stages for entry into university is the application stage and if universities want to encourage disabled applicants there are a number of considerations to take into account. Disabled people on the whole are underrepresented in higher education and one of the reasons for this might be that the application stage does not consider the support of disabled students. This is becoming increasingly important as initiatives such as widening participation focus on underrepresented groups and new legislation is introduced.

I came on an open day and sat in the department and had a look at the student village and I was very, very impressed with the department and the way they talked to you, and things like that.

- John, Biochemistry degree at the University of Salford.

Currently, information about disability is collected on the application form but for disabled applicants disclosure is an important consideration and many don't say anything. It is important that applicants get a clear picture of the support available in the university and that support is arranged as early as possible before entry. This requires information to be produced in accessible formats and for policies and procedures to be in place. Visitor days such as Open Days and interviews should also take into account the needs of disabled applicants.

I thought I might as well come up and see what it was like. I got the shock of my life at the time.

- S.B., Business Studies.

If you are considering reviewing the process for dealing with disabled applicants one starting point might be the Quality Assurance Agency's Code of Practice.
Once your procedure has been reviewed and improvements made, you can be happy that disabled students will feel welcome to apply to your institution.

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Pre-entry information

There are a variety of means by which potential students acquire information about their intended place of study. Here, we examine three important sources that disabled students may use in order to assess the suitability of a university.

Prospectuses/Course information

The prospectus is still the primary means by which students find out information about the university. As with all text documents it is important to consider the need for copies to be available in alternative formats. [?]

It is also worth considering representation of disabled students in the prospectus. A photograph along with a small account or a quote might be appropriate. Try not to stereotype disability as just meaning someone in a wheelchair or someone who is blind. There are also a large number of disabled students in HE who could be included but whose disability is hidden e.g. deaf students, dyslexia, back pain sufferers.

If you produce information on a specific course separate to the prospectus, such as leaflets and booklets, it is a good idea to follow the advice discussed above.

Disability Statements

In 1995 the Disability Discrimination Act required universities and further education colleges to write disability statements [?]. These are intended to give disabled students a clear picture of the services available for them in each HEI. Many universities send copies of the disability statement to all applicants who indicate a disability. Although the new SEN and Disability Act no longer requires universities to produce statements, many still use the format because it provides a convenient guide for students.

Other sources

Skill Guide to HE [External link: Open in new browser window]
Each year Skill, the National Bureau for Students with Disabilities produces a guide for students about the support available at each HEI. Skill requests a brief account from each disability office. [External link: Open in new browser window]
This guide has been written by students for students. Some of the information might be a little bit inaccurate but it is important to see a resource that isn't produced by the marketing department of a university.

Learning activity

Disability Statements of the Manchester universities

The disability statements for the Demos Universities are available at or can be obtained from the following URLs:

Manchester Metropolitan University [External link: Open in new browser window]
University of Manchester [External link: Open in new browser window]
University of Salford [External link: Open in new browser window]
[External link: Open in new browser window]

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Categories of disability

Most applicants to undergraduate courses apply through the central body Universities Central Admissions Service (UCAS). There are other systems which play a similar role for courses such as the Post Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE), the Diploma in Social Work and the Diploma in Nursing. These courses are covered by the Graduate Teacher Training Registry (GTTR), the Social Work Admissions System (SWAS) and the Nursing and Midwifery Admissions Service (NMAS) respectively. (GTTR and SWAS are actually administered by UCAS).

Declaring disability

All candidates are asked to supply a numerical code that identifies their Disability, special needs or medical condition. They are then asked to supply in a separate section any additional information relating to their special needs or support.

UCAS use a classification system which focuses on particular impairments and which has been adopted in most higher education application systems.

These are:

0. None.
1. You have dyslexia.
2. You are blind or partially sighted.
3. You are deaf or hearing impaired.
4. You use a wheelchair or have mobility difficulties.
5. You need personal care or assistance.
6. You have mental health difficulties.
7. You have a disability that cannot be seen for example diabetes, epilepsy or a heart condition.
8. You have two or more of the above.
9. You have a disability, special need or medical condition that is not listed.

I think I put something along the lines of 'part-time wheelchair user'.

- Anna CJ, Manchester Metropolitan University.

This system of information gathering has also been adopted by many courses that aren't covered by UCAS such as postgraduate and part-time courses. If you are responsible for or have an input into the application system for a course it might be worth considering the adoption of the system in order to collect consistent information on disabled applicants.

You can find further information about the UCAS applications procedure at [External link: Open in new browser window] . Look for the 'application form page 1' which shows the disability and special needs section.

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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:

Learning Activity

How might we change the UCAS categories so that they focus on support mechanisms that might be implemented by the university? Can you think of 10 categories of support that a university might need to consider and that universities could plan services around?

If you require further examples you can look at the following website which discusses the educational support for people with various impairments:

Here is our suggestion for the first two categories. You might think of something different :

0. does not require any support or adaptations.
1. additional support in the library (extended loan period, electronic access to information etc.)

When you have decided on 10 categories go to the next page where we have suggested 10 categories of support.

N.B. : The categories of impairment have been reviewed recently by UCAS but they are unlikely to make the changes that we suggest here. The exercise is designed to raise the issue of why we collect such information, to suggest an approach that fits into the social model of disability and to ask you to think about what relevant information is required by the institution from disabled applicants.

Suggested answer to learning activity

0 - does not require any support or adaptations;
1 - additional support in the library (extended loan period, electronic access to information etc.);
2 - copies of material in alternative formats;
3 - use of assistive technology;
4 - adaptations to halls of residence;
5 - alternative arrangements for examinations and assessments;
6 - wheelchair access to all buildings;
7 - will require personal assistant/s (British Sign Language (BSL) [?] interpreter, note taker etc);
8 - counselling;
9 - other.

These categories are based on broad areas of support or arrangements that the university might implement in negotiation with the student. The onus is changed from one of highlighting the student's impairment to one of provision of support services across the university. The applicant may be asked to tick as many as they feel necessary. Many of these support mechanisms can be paid for through a grant (the Disabled Students' Allowances [?]) that disabled students can claim for. You can find out more about this allowance at :

Obtaining information from disabled applicants in terms of support arrangements and providing information about what the university offers is an important part of the admissions process. We will focus on a possible procedure in the next section.

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Application procedures for disabled applicants

When considering an application from a disabled person many universities have their own bespoke policy and procedure. Below is a suggestion of how an application from a disabled person might be processed :

Description of Image:

This image is a graphical representation of a suggested application procedure.

Step 1: Application form received by the admissions office of the university/faculty/department.

Step 2: Information collected by the disability office regarding each applicant.

Step 3: Information sent to the applicant regarding the university's policy on disabled students (e.g. University's Disability Statement, Guide to Services Available for Disabled Students).

Step 4: Application is considered by admissions staff.

Step 5:

Step 6: Further investigation of support needs required. Applicant telephoned or invited to visit the university to discuss further and to view facilities.

Step 7:

Remember this is only a suggested model for processing applications from disabled people. Your university will probably have its own applications procedure.

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Notes for guidance on dealing with disabled applicants

First line of contact

It is important if you are the first line of contact for potential students that you are aware of the facilities available in the university. It is worth obtaining some information from your disability office including the disability statement [?] so that you can read up on the information and send out copies to the applicant if required. If the query gets too complicated, pass on the caller to the Disability Office.

It is also important that disabled students have a variety of means of contacting the admissions staff in your department. Alternative means to the telephone and written queries, should include a fax number, an email address and a minicom [?] number (with an operator who is capable of using it).

Be aware of the procedure

Obviously, the procedure outlined here is only one suggested method of dealing with applications from disabled people. It is important that you familiarise yourself with the procedure in your university, this is particularly true now that SENDA has come into force. If there is no formal procedure why not speak to the Disability Office to discuss ways of dealing with such applicants?

Informing others

Clearly, there are issues regarding disabled applicants that you probably won't be able to deal with on your own. It is important therefore to ensure that there is a procedure for checking forms containing information about disabled applicants and then passing on that information to the relevant contact (such as the Disability Office). Don't assume that the information about disability is being dealt with by someone else, you may find yourself with a disabled applicant enrolling on your course in September that no one has contacted but who has significant support requirements. This could cause problems for the student and the department, particularly with new legislation coming into force.

Academic decisions

When considering an application from a disabled person the primary decision should be made on whether or not the applicant has the entry criteria for the course. This is the same procedure as for all students. You must be sure not to confuse the academic ability of the applicant with their impairment.

Once this decision has been made there may be a procedure for finding out what the support needs of the applicant are. With most applicants this won't be relevant since there will be arrangements in place within your university, such as examination and assessment policies, that will ensure the applicant can successfully complete the course. The student may also be eligible for a grant [?] to pay for such support.

Some universities send out offers to all their students once the academic decision has been made and then find out about support needs. Other universities wait for the process of investigation to be completed. However, you should be aware that if this process unduly holds up the application it may be deemed unfair on the disabled applicant.

Under current legislation there are only three instances in which a university can reject a disabled applicant if they have the entry criteria necessary, these are:

In order to understand in which circumstances this might be the case it is worth reading our section on SENDA.

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Open Days, Interviews and Information visits

Open Days

Try to make Departmental Open Days accessible for disabled applicants. For instance, you should consider the use of BSL [?] interpreters for any speeches or lectures. Also, ensure that tours are accessible to people with mobility impairments or at least that alternative arrangements are made. Make sure that student ambassadors or tour guides are disability aware and if possible consider recruiting disabled students as ambassadors.

Provide any marketing information in alternative formats.


Academic interviews should focus on academic issues not on the applicant's impairment. However, it may be necessary to discuss issues around completion of the course. For example, field trips and laboratory work may not be accessible and the course may have to consider reasonable adjustments [?].

Information visits

Many universities use a system of information visits. These are usually coupled with an interview or Open Day and someone from the Disability Office will attend alongside an admissions tutor to discuss, in depth, any support needs with the student.

N.B. : If support issues are complicated, it is necessary to involve the Disability Office of your university. Although you can explore some of the issues, the student often requires a level of information that you are not equipped to provide.

If you decide to see an applicant on your own you need to have some awareness of the support available in your university and around the issues of accessibility. Perhaps your university offers some training or guidance on what is available. It is important not to give misinformation to any applicant or enquirer about access to the university. Remember don't make promises to an enquirer if you are unsure that the promise can be met. It is always safer to refer the matter on to the Disability Office if you are unsure.

Learning Activity

Please think about the issues of access to a course in your department/university for disabled applicants.

Please think about the issues of access to a course in your department/university for disabled applicants. When considering an application form do you need to think about certain issues before you invite the applicant for an interview or visit? If so what questions might you need to consider if you are assessing the support of a disabled applicant?

Please devise a set of questions that might be used to discuss the support needed by the applicant/student and that could be used in a process for gathering information from all disabled applicants?

We have provided you with a standard set here:

Suggested questions for considering the support of disabled applicants

Name _________________________________________

Address _______________________________________

UCAS Disability Category   ________________________

Course applied for _______________________________

What information has the applicant stated in the further
information box of the form?

What support has the applicant had in their previous

What should we be aware of in our lectures / seminars /
workshops so that we can make the teaching accessible to you?

Do you require alternative arrangements in examinations?

Do you require help in the library?

Are there any barriers in the physical environment (around
the University campus) that would cause problems for you?

Will you be living in University Halls of Residence?
Do you require an accessible living arrangement?
If so what adaptations do you need?

Print this form separately

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Suggested further activities for admissions tutors/administrators

We would like to finish this module with some suggestions for further activities that you might undertake in order fully prepare yourself for working with applicants from disabled people.

1. Familiarise yourself with the admissions policy of your university.

2. Liaise with the Disability Office at your university regarding the process for dealing with disabled applicants

3. Find out what support is available in your university for disabled students.

4. Seek the experiences of disabled students within your department about their experiences of applying to higher education.

5. Attend a staff development activity related to disability awareness.

6. Gain an understanding of the financial support available for disabled students. You might begin this by finding out about the Disabled Students' Allowances [External link: Open in new browser window] .

If in doubt refer the applicant on to the Disability Office.

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Additional resources

Web Links

Special Educational Needs and Disability Act (2001):
Special Educational Needs and Disability Act (2001) Code of Practice
Universities & Colleges Admissions Service for the UK (UCAS):
Applications Procedure
Lancaster University - Disabilities Service:
Guidance notes for staff teaching students with special needs.
DfES - Bridging the Gap:
Disabled Students' Allowances (DSAs)
Skill - National Bureau for Students with Disabilities:
Applying for the Disabled Students' Allowances (DSAs) 2000/2001
Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA):
Section 3: Students with Disabilities

Further reading

Oliver, M. (1996) Understanding Disability: from Theory to Practice. Macmillan Press, Basingstoke, UK.

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The Quality Assurance Agency's Code of Practice

The QAA has recently published a Code of Practice that will be used during quality audit visits and subject performance reviews. One of the sections (Section 3) of the Code relates to disabled students and it contains 24 precepts. Several of the precepts relate to procedures for dealing with disabled applicants. For example precept 4 deals with 'Information for applicants, students and staff'. It states:

4 The institution's publicity, programme details and general information should be accessible to people with disabilities and describe the opportunities for disabled students to participate.

Institutions should consider implementing arrangements which ensure that:

Learning Activity

Please identify the precepts from the QAA's Code of Practice, Section 3 : Students with disabilities that relate to dealing with disabled applicants :

The answer is:

All these refer explicitly to information or services that you should consider making available to disabled applicants.

Precepts 1, 8, and 9 also refer indirectly to policies and practices that may have an influence on the procedure for considering disabled applicants.

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The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) Code of Practice for Students with Disabilities

In January 1999 the Quality Assurance Agency published the first section of its 'Code of Practice for the Assurance of Academic Quality and Standards in Higher Education'. Although the QAA have scaled down their process of educational review for HEIs these documents are extremely useful in providing guides to best practice and may well play an important role in how the QAA assesses quality in the future.

There are 8 sections in the Code and Section 3, which was published in October 1999, relates to ' Students with Disabilities'. Section 6 deals with the 'Assessment of Students'. Each section of the Code contains a series of precepts and associated guidance notes.

Section 3: Students with Disabilities contains 24 precepts. These are available at: [External link: Open in new browser window]

Section 6: Assessment of Students contains 18 precepts. These are available at: [External link: Open in new browser window]

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The Special Educational Needs and Disability Act (2001)

This act was passed by Parliament in May 2001 and is an amendment to the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA)(1995). Previously much of the provision of HEIs in England was excluded from the DDA. However, the SENDA compels HEIs :

Provisions under the Act will be phased in from September 2002.

The Act is available from the HMSO at :
[External link: Open in new browser window]

We have also produced a more detailed guide to SENDA in another module.

Part 2, Chapter 2 deals with provision of Further and Higher Education.

A draft Code of Practice has been produced by the Disability Rights Commission. The Code deals with the implementation of the act and gives practical examples of what is considered to be a reasonable adjustment and what is meant by treating students less favourably.

It can be viewed at :
[External link: Open in new browser window]

Admissions specific issues

For your convenience we have collated information from the Code of Practice which relates to admissions issues.

The Disability Rights Commission have also produced a guide to good practice for Admissions and Marketing:
[External link: Open in new browser window]

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SENDA Issues relating to admissions

The following excerpts are from the SENDA Code of Practice available at: [External link: Open in new browser window]

Policies and procedures relating to admissions of disabled students may be affected by sections of the act other than those mentioned here. Therefore, we strongly recommend that you refer to the Act and the Code of Practice directly if you are in any doubt.

Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 Code of Practice

Section 2

Who has rights under the post-16 sections of the Act?

2.6 The Act applies to any disabled people (including those overseas) who are enquiring about or applying to a course, and any disabled students (including those overseas) attending, undertaking or enrolled on a course.

What activities do the post-16 sections of the Act affect?

2.13 The Act makes it unlawful for a responsible body to discriminate against a disabled person:

Section 3

Admissions and exclusions

3.9 It is unlawful for a responsible body to discriminate against a disabled person:

Example 3.9A

A college requires all applicants to fill out an application form by hand. It does not allow disabled students to type or use a helper to fill in the form. This is likely to be unlawful.

Example 3.9B

A university requires selected applicants to attend an interview. One applicant has a speech difficulty which gets worse when he is nervous. This means he needs more time to express himself. The university refuses to allow him any extra time at interview. This is likely to be unlawful.

Example 3.9C

An adult education centre informs a student with epilepsy that he may not enrol on a course unless he has an assistant with him at all times in case he has a seizure. In the past the student has only had seizures during the night. The centre's demand is likely to be unlawful.

Example 3.9D

A university has many applications for a popular course. In order to cut down the numbers that the admissions tutor has to look through, the administrator sets to one side all applications from disabled students. These applicants are considered only if places remain after all other applicants have been considered. This is likely to be unlawful.

What about students who are not completing an entire course?

3.17 A student does not have to be undertaking a complete course to have rights under the Act. Someone who is enquiring about, applying to, attending or undertaking a course of study at an educational institution, however long or short the study period, is covered. This includes people doing single modules, evening courses or distance learning. Similarly, anyone enquiring about, applying to or enrolled on a course or using recreational or training facilities provided by a local education authority or education authority is protected by the Act.

Example 3.17A

A disabled student from the USA comes to a university in Britain to undertake a year's study for her junior year abroad. The British university has a duty not to discriminate against her during her period of study.

Section 4

Less favourable treatment

4.3 A responsible body discriminates against a disabled person if it treats him or her less favourably, for a reason relating to his or her disability, than it treats, or would treat, someone else to whom that reason does not, or would not, apply. In some cases, less favourable treatment may be justified. The reason for the less favourable treatment must relate to the disabled person's disability. The duty not to discriminate against disabled people or students by treating them less favourably is expected to come into force on 1 September 2002.

4.4 For a disabled person to be discriminated against in this way, a responsible body must have treated him or her less favourably in comparison with how other people are treated or would be treated. The reason for the less favourable treatment must relate to the disabled person's disability.

Example 4.4A

A dyslexic student applies to do a distance learning degree in English. The university tells her that they it does not accept dyslexic students on English degrees. The treatment she receives is less favourable compared to other students, and the reason for the treatment relates to her disability. The university is likely to be acting unlawfully.

Example 4.4B

A student with a hearing impairment applies to do a course in Dentistry. He is turned down because he does not have the right entry qualifications. His rejection is not connected to his disability, and so is not likely to be unlawful.

Less favourable treatment in admissions

4.11 The post-16 sections of the Act make it unlawful for a responsible body to treat a disabled person less favourably in the arrangements it makes for determining admissions to the institution or enrolments to courses.

Example 4.11A

An institution requires dyslexic applicants to a course to take a literacy test as a condition of entry. No other students are required to take the test. This is likely to be unlawful.

4.12 It is also unlawful for a responsible body to treat a disabled person less favourably in the terms on which it offers to admit or enrol him or her.

Example 4.12A

A university makes an offer of a place to a student who is a wheelchair user on the condition that she finds her own living accommodation locally. No other students have this condition placed upon them. This is likely to be unlawful.

4.13 Nor may a responsible body treat a disabled person less favourably by refusing or deliberately omitting to accept an application for admission or enrolment.

4.18 A responsible body should be proactive in encouraging people to disclose a disability. This might involve asking applicants to courses to declare their disabilities on application and enrolment forms. It may mean publicising the provision that is made for disabled people, or providing opportunities for students to tell tutors/teachers or other staff in confidence. It might involve asking students when they apply for examinations whether they need any specific arrangements because of a disability. It might mean explaining to students the benefit of disclosure and how this information will be kept confidential. It means ensuring that the atmosphere and culture at the institution or service is open and welcoming so that disabled people feel safe to disclose a disability. If the responsible body might reasonably have been expected to know or find out about a person's disability, then it cannot claim that it did not know.

Example 4.18A

A man with a medical condition that causes fatigue and subsequent loss of speech control applies to a university for a postgraduate degree. The application form does not ask whether he has a disability nor whether he would have any particular needs when attending interview. He attends an interview, during which he is very listless and his speech is very slurred because he is tired from the journey, and the selectors turn him down because of this. He mentioned at the interview that he felt tired but the panel ignored this. The admissions office made no attempts to find out whether the applicant had a disability. Because this information might reasonably have been known, the selector's treatment of the applicant is likely to be unlawful.

The maintenance of academic standards

4.26 The Act does not require a responsible body to do anything that would undermine the academic standards of a particular course. A responsible body may be able to justify less favourable treatment if it is necessary to maintain these standards.

Example 4.26A

A young man with learning difficulties applies to do a Biology degree. He does not meet the entry requirements for the course. The university talks to the college where the man had previously been studying and concludes that, even if reasonable steps were taken to eliminate any disadvantage caused by his disability, there would be no prospect of his completing the degree course successfully. Although the lack of entry requirements is related to the man's disability, the institution is likely to be justified in rejecting his application because to accept him would be to undermine the academic standards of the course.

4.27 The academic standards reason should not be used spuriously. Where elements are not central or core to a course, they are unlikely to provide a reason to justify discrimination based on academic standards. Nor can academic standards be used as justification for barring whole groups of disabled people from courses or services. Any justification has to be relevant to the academic standards of a particular course and to the abilities of an individual person.

Example 4.27A

A severely dyslexic student applies to take a course in Journalism. She does not have the literacy necessary to complete the course because of her dyslexia. The college rejects her, using the justification of academic standards. This is likely to be lawful.

Example 4.27B

The college now introduces a policy of rejecting all dyslexic applicants to Journalism. The policy does not allow course selectors to consider different levels of dyslexia, the ability of individual applicants or the range of possible adjustments. This is likely to be unlawful.

The maintenance of other prescribed standards, prescribed types of treatment and treatment in prescribed circumstances

4.28 The Act allows for future regulations to list any standards, treatments or circumstances that may also provide reasons to justify less favourable treatment.

Reasons that are material and substantial

4.29 Less favourable treatment may also be justified as long as the reasons for the treatment are both material to the circumstances of the particular case and substantial.

4.30 To be material to the circumstances of the particular case, the reasons have to relate to the individual circumstances.

Example 4.30A

A student with emotional and behavioural difficulties applies for a college course. He has previously been on a link course to the college and staff know that he is extremely disruptive and makes a great deal of noise during classes which prevents other students from learning. During his previous periods in the college, tutors tried to make adjustments for him, but these were not successful. The college approaches the school, which confirms there has been no change in his behaviour. The college decides that they cannot accept him on to the course. The reasons for the failure to admit him relate to this particular student and his particular behaviour patterns. For this reason, the college is likely to be acting lawfully in rejecting the student.

4.31 A reason also has to be substantial and not just minor or trivial.

Example 4.31A

A student with autistic spectrum disorder applies for a course. The student can be disruptive, and sometimes will talk inappropriately during classes. However, her interruptions are not much more than those made by other students, and when she has an assistant with her, her behaviour improves. There is unlikely to be any material and substantial reason to justify not admitting this student.

Example 4.31B

A blind woman applies to do a Forensic Science degree. Although she can undertake some parts of the course, she cannot see enough to undertake the parts of the course which involve visual analysis of materials. This is a core component of the course. The college is likely to have a substantial reason to justify not accepting this student.

Example 4.31C

A deaf student applies to do a college course. She communicates through sign language and would need an interpreter for all her classes. The college approaches the interpreting service which provides support for its other deaf students, but because of high demand that year, the service is unable to support this additional student. The college makes wider enquiries, but is unable to find the services of an interpreter or communicator. Because it is not possible to make the necessary adjustments for her to gain access to the course, the college does not accept her application. This is likely to be a material and substantial.

What adjustments might responsible bodies need to make?

5.8 The Act does not define what 'reasonable steps' an institution should take. However, the purpose of taking the steps is to ensure that the disabled person or student is not placed at a substantial disadvantage. Responsible bodies should consider a wide range of adjustments. In some cases there may be financial or other support available from elsewhere to help provide the adjustments.

Example 5.8A

A college insists that all potential students sit a basic English test before being admitted onto a particular programme. The test lasts an hour. A disabled person applies for the course. She has severe back pain when sitting still for long periods and needs to be able to get up and move around. The college arranges for her to sit the test in a separate room so that she can do this. This is likely to be a reasonable adjustment for the college to make.

Disclosure and reasonable steps

5.10 If the institution did not know and could not reasonably have known that the student was disabled, then failure to make an adjustment for a disabled person or student is not discrimination.

5.13 If the disabled person has told someone within the institution or service about his or her disability, then the responsible body may not be able to claim that it did not know.

Example 5.13A

A student declares her disability on her application form. Once she is enrolled on a course she receives none of the support or adaptations that she needs. The tutor claims she does not know that the student is disabled. However, because the student has disclosed her disability, the institution cannot claim it does not know about it. The failure to offer support and adaptations is therefore likely to be unlawful.

5.14 If the responsible body might reasonably have known or found out about a person's disability, then it cannot claim that it did not know.

Example 5.14A

An applicant does not declare his disability on his application form. When he calls up to confirm his attendance at a selection interview he talks to the admissions officer via Typetalk, the telephone service for deaf people. The admissions officer does not ask the applicant if he will need any adaptations to the selection interview and fails to alert the interviewers for the course that the applicant may be deaf. The interviewers do not realise that the applicant is deaf and do not take any steps to ensure that the interview is accessible to him. The responsible body might reasonably have known that the student had a disability. The failure to offer adaptations is, therefore, likely to be unlawful.

5.15 A responsible body needs to be proactive to encourage people to disclose a disability. This might involve asking people to declare their disabilities on application and enrolment forms. It may mean publicising the provision that is made for disabled people, and then providing opportunities for people to tell tutors, teachers or other staff in confidence. It might involve asking students when they apply for examinations whether they need any specific arrangements because of a disability. It means ensuring that the atmosphere and culture are open and welcoming so that disabled people feel safe to disclose a disability. The Department for Education and Skills has issued guidance covering the action responsible bodies might take to find out about a person's disability.

Can a responsible body justify the failure to make a reasonable adjustment?

5.16 There may be rare occasions where a reasonable step might be taken, but there is a justification for not taking it. If this is the case, then the failure to take the reasonable step is not considered discriminatory in law. The failure to take a reasonable step can only be justified if the reasons are both material to the circumstances of the particular case and substantial.

Example 5.16B

A man with limited mobility applies to do a degree in Civil Engineering. The course leader meets the student and feels that she would be unable to practice as a civil engineer because of her disability. For this reason he decides that it would be inappropriate to make adjustments to the course and so recommends that her application is rejected. The degree course is not, however, directly vocational, and not all graduates from the course progress on to become engineers. There are therefore unlikely to be material reasons for failing to make reasonable adjustments.

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Producing materials in alternative format

Many disabled students cannot access text easily and there are a variety of methods by which this problem can be overcome. Some of these methods require the use of assistive technology . However, due to recent legislation (SENDA [?]), universities cannot rely on the individual to find the solution and alternative versions need to be produced, especially if the document, such as the prospectus, is available to a wide audience. Some universities are even providing their own transcription services [External link: Open in new browser window] where staff are paid using the student's Disabled Students' Allowances (DSAs) [?].

There are various ways of producing accessible text depending on the requirements of the student:


This is a system of representing the alphabet and various punctuation marks using a series of raised dots. The dots are produced on special paper by a braille embosser [External link: Open in new browser window] and this is often linked into a computer by specialist software. Not all blind and visually impaired students read braille so don't assume that this will be the preferred format. Braille paper versions of documents are also much bulkier and can be expensive to produce. Transcription services are available and production times may be as short as 24 hours depending on the document size. There is also an alternative system called Moon. [External link: Open in new browser window]

Useful links

Spoken Word

Documents can also be read out and recorded using audio recording systems (tape recorders, mini-disks etc.). As with brailling there are companies that can produce these and nowadays turnaround time can be as little as 24 hours depending on the length of the document. Some visually impaired students pay a team of readers to voice documents (journal articles, chapters from books) onto tape. Departments can help by advertising for current students to form such a team.

The RNIB run a cassette library and there is a National Library for the Blind in Stockport (0161 494 0217).

Useful links

Large print

The Royal National Institute for the Blind recommend producing versions of documents in enlarged font, which is no smaller than 16pt and usually in type that is 'sans serif' such as Arial. However, each student will be different and it is always worthwhile to check with the individual what their requirements are.

British Sign Language

You may wish to produce an video with an introduction to the university in British Sign Language on it. Over 70,000 people in the UK use BSL so there is a large potential audience. For more information:


If information or documents are placed onto websites it is important to follow guidelines for producing accessible content and coding.

Electronic versions

If at all possible always produce documents electronically and store versions on disk. These cannot only be sent to students directly but can also be used to send to transcription services.

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UCAS statistics table

Home Domiciled Applicants through UCAS by declared Disability / Special Needs (2001 Entry Cycle)
Disability or Special Need Applicants Main Scheme Applicants Degree Accepts HND Accepts All Accepts
No disability or non disclosed 380,494 349,496 284,527 25,647 310,174
Dyslexia 9,336 8,536 6,623 947 7,570
Blind / partially sighted 598 550 411 56 467
Deaf/ hard of hearing 868 805 614 82 696
Wheelchair/mobility difficulties 477 411 314 57 371
Need personal care or assistance 19 15 12 3 15
Mental health difficulties 622 503 385 59 444
Unseen (e.g. diabetes, epilepsy, heart condition) 3,304 3,045 2,415 233 2,648
2+ disabilities / special needs 647 555 440 64 504
Other disabilities / special needs 3,280 3,025 2,316 267 2,583
Total 399,645 366,941 298,057 27,415 325,472

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Postgraduate/ part-time/ international students

If you are involved in the admissions process for any of these groups of students we have provided very brief comments here. We recommend that you work through other parts of this module in order to gain a deeper understanding of the issues involved. Also, you should always liaise with your disability support office if you require information about disability from these groups of students The rules for claiming the Disabled Students' Allowances are complicated so it is worth referring to the guide to claiming the DSAs 'Bridging the Gap'. [External link: Open in new browser window]


We suggest you use a classification system such as that used by UCAS on the application form. If you are involved in interviewing applicants the standard support form that we have included in the module will be useful. It may be necessary to liaise with the student early on and the Disability Office in your university to check that support is available, as the student may have expectations from their previous university.

Postgraduate students are eligible for DSAs [?] so they can get money to continue to pay for support. Courses must be for at least one year. If research students are funded by a body that offers the equivalent of the DSAs they must apply direct to their research body.

Part-time students

Part-time study might be an attractive option for some disabled students who are unable to study full-time. Part-time students are eligible for DSAs [?] as long as they are studying for the equivalent of 50% of a full-time course. The advice to admissions staff is the same for postgraduate entry i.e. use a classification system on entry and find out as much information as possible as early as possible.

Erasmus/ international students

The situation regarding international students is becoming increasingly complicated with the introduction of new legislation (SENDA [?]). Funding may not be available for these students and the facilities they have been accustomed to in their university/ country might not be matched by the UK university. They are not eligible for the DSAs [?] but some universities may have a central fund for dealing with these students. However, all disabled applicants/ students are covered by SENDA and the university may be responsible for offering 'reasonable adjustments' [?]. It might not be reasonable to simply reject the student because you feel the university cannot offer the support they are asking for. In any event, you should attempt to find out information regarding disability from these students as early as possible as suggested above for postgraduate and part-time students. Refer to your disability support office if you are in any doubt.

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Recently there have been two significant pieces of legislation that will directly affect how universities deal with disabled students. These are listed below:

Recently there have also been three significant pieces of public policy that will directly affect how universities deal with disabled students. These are listed below:

The Special Educational Needs and Disability Act (2001)

This act makes it unlawful for HE institutions to discriminate against disabled students in all areas of educational provision.
» Find out more about how SENDA relates to disabled applicants.

The Human Rights Act

The implementation in British law of the European Convention on Human Rights.
» Find out more about the Human Rights Act.

Other developments

Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) Code of Practice

The QAA have produced a useful guide by which HEIs may analyse their provision for disabled students.
» Find out more about how the QAA Code of Practice relates to disabled applicants.

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The Human Rights Act (1998)

This Act came fully into force in British law on 2nd of October 2000. It implements the European Convention on Human Rights. Higher Education providers are covered by the legislation as they are classed as 'public bodies'.

Some relevant parts of the Act for HEIs are :

It is unclear at this stage how the legislation can be interpreted for higher education because there are considerable complications. For instance, the UK government has a restriction on Protocol 1, Article 2 (the right to education) that it can only be enforced 'in so far as it is compatible with the provision of efficient instruction or training and the avoidance of unreasonable public expenditure'.

More information is available from various online sources :

BBC News : Human rights in society - Education
[External link: Open in new browser window]

General information is available from the government website on the Act: [External link: Open in new browser window]

The Disability Rights Commission has produced a report on the Human Rights Act which can be downloaded from its website at:
[External link: Open in new browser window]

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Last updated: 4 February 2003
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