Disabilities and special educational needs
As a disabled person in the UK, you have rights to protect you from discrimination. These rights cover most areas including employment, education, dealing with the police and more.
The Equality Act 2010 and the United Nations (UN) Convention on disability rights help to enforce, protect and promote these rights.
Support on campus
UK schools, colleges and universities are legally required not to discriminate against disabled students, and not to treat them less favourably than students without a disability.
Under the Equality Act 2010, all universities and colleges also have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to their services, so disabled students are not placed at a substantial disadvantage. These laws apply to international students as well as to students who are UK citizens.
In the UK, most students with disabilities or other special educational needs join mainstream schools, colleges and universities. Support is usually good – UK education centres aim to be inclusive, welcoming places. However, services vary and you may encounter some challenges (see below).
Some students attend schools and education centres specifically for students with disabilities and special educational needs. This may be because they feel they will be better supported in this environment, or because mainstream education centres cannot meet their requirements. Find out more below.
Advice and support
Before you enrol on a UK course, we strongly recommend that you tell your chosen school, college or university about your needs. Ask what support they offer and if there will be any costs you need to cover. You may want to ask about:
- Access around the buildings and campus: Most schools, colleges and universities have wheelchair-friendly routes around their buildings and campuses. However, some old buildings may pose a challenge.
- Accommodation: Please see the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) website for advice about accommodation.
- Exams and learning support: You may be entitled to extra time during examinations and support for classes. For example, you might access Braille text and tutor recordings, or get help from note-takers during lessons. Audio induction loop systems may be available too, as well as print-outs of lectures. Some schools, colleges and universities have computer aids, including text-to-speech technology, transcription services and magnification software. Ask what is on offer.
- For students with dyslexia, your school, college or university may be able to assess your needs and offer support including sessions with specialist tutors, extra learning resources and extra time in tests and exams. You may be asked to complete a dyslexia assessment, to find out what support you need. You can also request an assessment if you suspect you have dyslexia but have not been tested before. Your institution can help to arrange this.
- For deaf students, find out about sign language options at your chosen institution. Signers in the UK generally use British Sign Language.
- Your school, college or university may also be able to arrange regular meetings with a disability adviser, or even a local doctor if needed. Ask if this is possible.
Scroll down for a short film from UCAS to find out more.
Braille textbooks and notes are often available for students with visual impairments (Photo ©Mat Wright)
In the UK, you have rights to protect you from discrimination. The Equality Act 2010 and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities help to enforce, protect and promote your rights. Find out more on the gov.uk website.
For further information on the rights of disabled students in the UK visit the Equality and Human Rights Commission website.
Scholarships and financial support
There are a number of UK scholarships and financial support schemes for international students with disabilities and special educational needs. These schemes may be run by UK or international governments, charities or businesses – or by the UK universities, colleges and schools themselves.
Ask your Ministry of Education, your local British Council office or your teachers if they know of any such schemes you could apply for. You could contact the institution you wish to apply to directly, to ask about scholarships and other financial assistance available for international students.
You can also see more information about scholarships and funding for international students here.
Higher education students in England may be entitled to a Disabled Students' Allowance. This is open to:
- EU students who have been ordinarily resident in the UK and Islands for three years immediately before the first day of their first academic year
- EEA (European Economic Area) and Swiss migrant workers who have been ordinarily resident in the EEA for three years immediately before the first day of their first academic year, and who are assessed as meeting the criteria of ‘worker’.
- The UK’s National Union of Students’ disability campaign is the voice of UK students with disabilities, and provides support for students with a huge range of disabilities. The campaign runs quality checks to make sure that students have the access they need.
- The United Kingdom Disabled People’s Council represents people with disabilities living in the UK.
- For pupils aged up to 16, read the government's advice on UK support for young pupils with special education needs or contact the Information, Advice and Support Services Network (formerly the National Parent Partnership Network).
- UKCISA offers advice and support to all international students. Have a look at their website for more information.
- Capability Scotland provides support and advice to people with disabilities in Scotland.
- UCAS (the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) has resources to help students with disabilities apply to undergraduate and postgraduate courses – including advice and a new series of short films in British Sign Language.
In this short film, UCAS gives advice for students applying to higher education courses, and explains what support is available to help during your studies:
(Click 'CC' at the bottom right to switch on subtitles.)