The dyslexic peer Lord Addington has warned that disabled students could drop out of university if there is a reduction of the technical support provided under the Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSA) grant scheme.
From 2016 universities will be expected to support disabled students, as required by the Equality Act, to a much greater extent than before with a scaling back of assistive systems available through DSA.
However, Lord Addington and others are not convinced universities will be able to step into the breach.
“We all know from personal experience that if you have something that you cannot use properly, you do not use it,” he warned during a recent House of Lords debate.
“Any money that is provided and any support that is not effective and accessible will basically be ignored.”
The best thing about the current support packages for students was that they are centred on the individual, said Lord Addington.
He emphasised the varying needs of each student, the importance of getting the right support and the advantages of the national framework provided by the current DSA system.
“Will the university provide that individual package to meet the needs of the person? This is very important, because when you look through, you see a lot of talk about generic technology and providing it free of charge with no licence involved,” said Lord Addington.
“As a user of this type of technology, software and back-up … let me tell you one thing about it: if it is not reliable, it is not worth having. There is a lot of very cheap and shoddy stuff out there.”
He questioned whether universities would be able to provide the necessary individual support. Some might do a better job of it than others, leaving students to choose between them, he explained.
Universities that already had a lot of disabled students would be financially penalised by the changes, he pointed out. Their staff would also have to change how they did things to ensure lectures were accessible.
Baroness Hayter warned that there could be disputes between students and universities over the definition of reasonable adjustments in the Equality Act, which universities must now abide by.
The Government was committed to supporting disabled students, said the Conservative spokesperson Baroness Evans What was changing was the balance between what was available under DSA and what was provided by institutions.
And she added that her Government wanted to continue “working with both the assistive technology sector and mainstream technology manufacturers to ensure that the products they produce meet the needs of disabled students”.
Officials are looking at introducing a benchmark for inclusivity and providing better information to students about their institution’s provision for disabled students.