Admission of Students with Disabilities

Good Practice Guidelines:

The Equality Act (2010) Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 (SENDA)

The current legislation covering disability is the Equality Act (2010) which supersedes the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) 2005 and the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act (SENDA) 2001.  The new Act further strengthens the law in important ways to help tackle discrimination and inequality, and provides protection against harassment and victimisation on the grounds of disability.

The Equality Act (2010) continues the existing duty upon higher education institutions to make reasonable adjustments for staff, students and service users who are placed at a substantial disadvantage in comparison to non-disabled people.  Reasonable adjustments may apply to

  • provisions, criteria or practices
  • physical features
  • auxiliary aids.

It is important to note that, with regard to direct discrimination, an institution can treat a disabled person favourably compared to a non-disabled person, and this would not amount to direct discrimination of a non-disabled person.

Definition of disability under the DDA

The Equality Act (2010) defines a disability as a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term (i.e. has lasted or is likely to last for at least twelve months) adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

 Physical impairment includes sensory conditions such as visual or hearing impairment, as well as a range of health conditions, including HIV, cancer, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and heart conditions.

Mental impairment includes mental health difficulties such as depression, anxiety disorders, psychotic illnesses, and eating disorders.

Also covered by the Act are Asperger Syndrome and other Autism Spectrum Disorders, and specific learning difficulties (SpLDs), e.g. Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

This list is not exhaustive, although people in these circumstances and some others (such as people with a facial disfigurement) are likely to have rights under the Equality Act to protect them from discrimination.

Substantial in other words not minor or trivial; relevant considerations are needed to carry out a task, the way in which the task is carried out, and the cumulative effects of the disability.

Long-term is defined as a disability where effects last at least 12 months

Effects of a condition which are likely to last less than 12 months, such as temporary infection, or a broken leg are not covered.

Normal day-to-day activity includes activities which are carried out by most people on a fairly regular and frequent basis, for example using the stairs

Admissions duties

The Act makes it unlawful for an HEI to discriminate against a disabled person:

  • in the admissions process
  • in the terms on which admissions or enrolment (matriculation) offers are made
  • by refusing or deliberately omitting to accept an application for admissions or enrolment on the grounds of disability

The Act does not require academic standards to be lowered . An HEI will be expected to consider what is essential to a procedure or course (which therefore cannot be compromised), and what is peripheral or incidental and can be waived or modified.

Less favourable treatment in admissions

The Act makes it unlawful for an HEI to treat a disabled student less favourably, for reasons relating to disability, in the arrangements it makes for determining admission.

A dyslexic applicant is asked to take a literacy test as a condition of entry. No other applicants are required to take the test. This is likely to be unlawful.

Making reasonable adjustments

The Act places responsibility on an HEI to take reasonable steps to ensure that, in the admissions process, a disabled student is not placed at a substantial disadvantage compared to students who are not disabled.

A student with a speech-impairment needs additional time to express himself during the interview. The University does not accommodate this need. This is likely to be unlawful.

Admissions process – good practice guidelines

1. Recruitment

Encourage disclosure of disability – put a positive statement in the college prospectus/graduate admissions prospectus, on websites and in any other college/University publicity where appropriate. The QAA code of practice recommends developing an environment where individuals feel able to disclose their disability. Publicly welcoming applications from disabled candidates will help to achieve this.

2. Open days and individual visits - Accessibility

Suggest attendance at an open day or a personal visit. This can give both the college/department, and the student the opportunity to discuss informally what support might be required and what can reasonably be provided. The student can subsequently decide whether they wish to make an application. In addition, for undergraduates where the primary contact is the college, recommend a visit to the appropriate department(s). For postgraduates where the primary contact is the department, in addition recommend a visit to one or more colleges. It is important to make it clear that the visit is not an assessment of suitability to study a subject.

Prior to a visit, ask the student what arrangements need to be made for the visit. Consider a checklist to include for example:

For visually impaired students : preferred format for receiving information (audio tape – Oxford University Resources for the Blind, large print, Braille – available through OUCS, other), arrangements for a guide dog, and provision of a sighted guide.

For hearing impaired students : preferred method of communication, i.e. will the student be accompanied by a communication support worker or a sign language interpreter.

For mobility impaired students : map of wheelchair accessible route around college/department. Are presentations being held in accessible locations with accessible toilets nearby?

For students with other disabilities: dietary requirements (if providing lunch)

3. On the day of the visit

Explain the level of support, provision of equipment, and other facilities that the college/department can offer. Explain what arrangements might be available for using the library. Look at accommodation requirements. Undertake a 'walk through' of the college/department involving areas that the student might need to access such as the library, tutorial rooms, hall, and accommodation.

4. UCAS Applications

Have systems in place to identify any needs that are disclosed on the UCAS/graduate application form. Undergraduate Admissions do check UCAS forms for any declared disability, but the College will need to recognize and put in place any special arrangements, such as an accessible interview room and accommodation, question papers in alternative formats, extra time for written tests etc. Departments should check any declared disabilities in the case of postgraduate applicants and consequent needs for special arrangements. It may be necessary to contact the student about the extent of the adjustments that will needed. Communicate these requirements to relevant colleagues, so they are aware in advance if a student will be accompanied by, for instance, a sign language interpreter.

Interview offer letters

Some students who have a disability may assume that they will be discriminated against if they disclose this information. Other students may just not consider themselves to be disabled even though significant adjustments may be needed to enable successful study. Applicants are not required to declare this information on their UCAS/graduate application form, even though it is prudent for them to do so. It is therefore advisable to include a sentence or paragraph in interview offer letters (or in other appropriate forms), which asks candidates if any special arrangements are required for the interview.

5. The Interview

When a student has disclosed a disability and is being interviewed it is important that reasonable adjustments are made so as not to discriminate against them. Wherever possible, contact the individual to enquire what arrangements will be necessary. These may include:

For visually impaired students : question papers in an accessible format (e.g. large print or enlarged to A3 size), on tape (possibly with a player), in Braille. Check with the student as to their preference. Disability Advisory Service can advise on how to obtain these alternative formats. If reference is made to something that is written, read out the relevant passage to the student. A guide dog, or sighted guide, or note taker may accompany the student.

For hearing-impaired students : it is important that the interview room is well lit, as they may need to lip read. Try to ensure also that your face is in the light, e.g. sitting against a window may put your face into silhouette and thereby make lip reading even more difficult. Where possible write down any names or unusual words and start a conversation by referring to the context as soon as possible, as again this will help with lip reading. The student may need to work with a communications support worker, a note taker or a sign language interpreter. Please consider allowing additional space for this person to be positioned in the room, however, address conversation and questions to the candidate and not their support worker. This may also mean that the interview will take longer, and time should be allowed for this.

For mobility impaired students : it is important to hold the interview in an accessible room, which may be a ground floor room if no convenient lift is available for upper floors. There would need to be enough space for a wheelchair to turn easily (at least 760mm wide). Ideally there also needs to be an accessible toilet nearby.

For students with other disabilities: Try and contact the student to ask what arrangements may be required. A dyslexic student may request extra time for written tests and may request question papers be copied on to coloured paper. Students with a speech impediment may need extra time to express themselves in an interview. Often potentially stressful situations such as interviews exacerbate disabilities or medical conditions and this possibility should be taken into account.

6. Post interview / pre matriculation support

The Disability Advisory Service can help to make arrangements to complete the Student Support Document ( SSD ). The SSD should be completed by all students with disabilities substantial enough to require individual consideration, and exceptional arrangements. The SSD involves the production of a specific and individual action plan, which outlines all necessary action on the part of the College, Department/University, and the student themselves.

Sources of advice and information

Disability Advisory Service :
For general and specific information Tel: 01865  (2) 80459

ARACU (Accessible Resources Aquisition and Creation Unit)
This service, currently based at Osney Mead, can produce information on audio (DAISY), braille and electronic text. Email :   Email: 01865 (2) 83861

Disability Rights Commission:
Free information about the Act can be obtained from the help line: 08457 622 633 or on the web: