Disabled Students Guide

Full credit to be given to SU DisCam, Holly Winch, Alia Eyres, Anna Jeffries-Shaw and all other student volunteers that helped put it together.

Disclaimer: This guide has been complied by current Oxford Students and to the best of their knowledge, is accurate. However there may have been changes since publication. If you would like current advice about the information here or any welfare issue, please contact advice@oxfordsu.ox.ac.uk

Disability can cover physical, sensory, cognitive, mental, and developmental disabilities as well as chronic illnesses, mental health conditions, autism, or specific learning difficulties (such as dyslexia). People with these conditions may or may not identify as ‘disabled’. This has no impact on their ability to receive help.

Not all disabilities are visible. This can include things such as mental health conditions, or social/cognitive disabilities, but equally, people can have mobility requirements that may not always be visibly apparent. Do not assume that someone does not have a disability because they ‘do not look disabled’.

Oxford University is difficult for anyone, but the difficulties can be exemplified if you have a disability. Hopefully the information on this webpage can help make it a little bit easier to go through the whole Oxford process.

Useful Resources

Welfare Support

There are a lot of welfare services available for Oxford students which are completely free and should be used if you need it or just want some extra support.

If you are struggling, it does not mean you do not deserve your place in Oxford, but it may mean that you need a little bit extra support from the university- and this is what welfare support services are about.

Support in College:

In college, your first point of contact will be your disability lead or co-ordinator. They can offer advice about what support is available and liaise with the DAS (see below). They may also be able to help with arranging accessible rooms and other college-specific adjustments you may need. 

Peer Support team – students who have had 30 hours training from the university counselling service. They both provide a confidential and impartial listening service, and are often the first port of call for welfare issues. If nothing else they’ll be able to signpost to the direction of other welfare services that might be of use. Keep an eye out for posters around your college!

Committee’s Welfare Officers – these students are elected into the JCR post for a term, and can similarly signpost you to other services. Some colleges may even have Disabilities Officers, which will be especially great in giving you the right advice and signposting you to the right places.

Welfare staff – most colleges have a nurse, and some have in-college counsellors and dedicated welfare officers. Their job is to help you, so remember that you’re free to approach them with any problem at all.

Dean team – varies by college, with some deans taking on a more disciplinary rather than welfare role. But deans, assistant deans, and junior deans will normally be happy to chat about welfare issues either formally or informally.

Tutors – If welfare issues are affecting your academic performance, don’t be afraid to approach your tutors. They’ll often be happy to help whether that be through extending deadlines or offering advice. Remember that all tutors have been students before, so they can be more sympathetic than you might expect.

Academic officer and senior tutor – This role may vary by college, but colleges normally have a member of staff who organises academic matters like exams, and can be contacted if your welfare is interfering with your work. They can also liaise with tutors if necessary.

Chaplains - many chaplains have a welfare role in college and you do not have to be religious to use them! They are great if you need extra support.

Disability Advisory Service (DAS)

(Taken directly from https://www.ox.ac.uk/students/welfare/disability/study )

The DAS (Disability Advisory Service) is the university’s central Disability Service. It is made up of a team of specialist advisors who provide information and advice, and facilitate access to study for all students who have a disability. Any information you give will be treated confidentially and shared on a need-to-know basis.

In order to determine what support might be appropriate for you at Oxford, the DAS will:

  • Discuss your experiences and expectations with you

  • Review your evidence of disability

  • Consider your current course of study

The support listed on this page is only a sample; there might be more options or other ways of working available. Not all support listed is always available to all students in a particular category. The DAS will work with you to consider your individual circumstances.

Support can be considered in these categories:

  • Teaching adjustments

  • Human support (also known as non-medical help)

  • Reasonable adjustments to the built environment

  • IT equipment and study technology

  • Travel between study sites

  • Examinations and assessments

  • Libraries

Support or funding is not provided for:

  • Daily living support (for UK students, the local authority service in your home remains responsible for social and personal care and non-study-related support)

  • Medical support

The collegiate University shares responsibility for meeting the needs of disabled students. This is set out in the Common Framework for Disabled Students. This means that informing the college about your condition should ensure you get as much help as possible.

The DAS will liaise with your college and department disability coordinators to implement your support. A Student Support Plan may be prepared. You can use this to share information about your disability as you choose.

This is a document made by students of reasonable adjustments by disability (which is not exhaustive, and may not apply to every student of a given disability, but can give you an idea of the type of thing the SSP can include): https://drive.google.com/file/d/1svcfeVHDuENm9E_CQks6fHf3Mb_RIfr8/view?usp=sharing

Your Student Support Plan (SSP)

Your disability advisor outlines recommendations for individual support in a Student Support Plan. The DAS will advise you on implementing certain support such as:

  • Getting in touch with tutors, mentors or other support workers

  • Arranging delivery of technology and training

We recommend you share your SSP with people who are supporting you. In addition, the DAS will send your SSP to:

  • Your college disability coordinator

  • Your departmental disability coordinator (the lead department if you are doing a joint course)

  • The Disability Librarian at the Bodleian Library (if you have library-related needs)

These people will share this information to core members of staff who need to know about your disability to support you.

Each Student Support Plan is individual and based on discussions between the DAS and yourself, so we recommend you get in contact with us for an initial appointment. 

The SSP represents recommendations only. Final responsibility for decision making in respect of reasonable adjustments rests with the appropriate body legally responsible for meeting the requirements of the Equality Act 2010: colleges in matters relating to college provision and the University in matters relating to departments and faculties. 

The DAS recommendations are made to support colleges and the University as they consider their obligations to make reasonable adjustments. More information is available from http://www.admin.ox.ac.uk/aad/swss/disability/aboutdisability/studentsupportplan/.

Registering with the DAS:

You can talk to your college’s disability coordinator, update your Student Self-Service, or fill in a registration form: https://www.ox.ac.uk/students/welfare/disability/resources

You will also need to provide supporting evidence of your disability. This evidence may be a medical letter, or, in the case of an SpLD (specific learning difficulty, such as dyslexia) an educational psychologist or specialist teacher report.

If you have any questions, the DAS can be contacted by email: disability@admin.ox.ac.uk

The DAS will then contact you to discuss what support or adjustments they may be able to put in place.

Other wider services

  • Oxford University Counselling Service – You can request an appointment by emailing counselling@admin.ox.ac.uk, calling 01865 270300, or dropping in to the counselling service at 3 Worcester Street (opposite Worcester College and next to the Oxford SU offices). 
    More information here:
    https://www.ox.ac.uk/students/welfare/counselling/appointment?wssl=1#
    The counselling service is also contactable over the vacation if you require ongoing support at home and their website contains online resources such as podcasts.

  • The Student Advice Service – A free service run by Oxford SU offering advice on all aspects of Oxford life. 
    Their website has tonnes of information and details on how to contact them directly: https://www.oxfordsu.org/advice/student-advice-service/ 

  • Your GP – An easily-accessible service. Your GP may either diagnose and provide treatment for many welfare issues or recommend a service more applicable to your needs.

  • Peers of Colour and Rainbow Peers – University-wide Peer Support groups made up of BME and LGBTQ+ students respectively, if you would prefer to talk to someone who identifies with a given issue.

  • Charities – there are many charities around Oxford, dedicated to students and providing more general services. Some include:

    • Nightline provides an anonymous listening service 8pm-8am 
    • Mind and Student Minds provide support and resources for mental health issues
    • Peer Supporters are trained to be able to point you in the direction of other services, but feel free to contact the Class Act Welfare Rep if you’d prefer.
    • TalkingSpace Plus is a free counselling service in Oxford that’s not run by the university. Many preferred this as theyI did want to be seen externally from the university counselling service. They respond really quickly. College and department welfare officers are amazing, but I get not everyone wants to be seen by someone they may otherwise know.

You can find a comprehensive list of university services here: www.ox.ac.uk/students/welfare?wssl=1

SELF-CARE

  • Don’t be afraid to talk about it. Regardless of how small the issue feels, talking through your problems with someone else (be it a friend, peer supporter, or the senior welfare team) is an important first step.

  • Make time for yourself. Oxford is full of amazing spaces that your Bod card will get you in for free. If you need a break from an essay or problem sheet, take some time to wander around a museum, visit a different college, or explore the city’s parks and gardens.

  • Remember that deadlines aren’t the end of the world. Most tutors are happy to be flexible, if you’re struggling to manage your work.

  • Find a hobby or join a society. Setting aside a few hours to do something non-academic can help to structure your working week. (Class Act will be running several events that you can get involved with – keep an eye out for their term card!)

  • Remember that everybody works at different rates, especially in first year. Try not to compare yourself too heavily to your classmates and focus on finding a routine that works for you!

The Disabled Students’ Allowance

The DSA is a grant that helps to cover some of the extra costs that you might have because of a disability or mental health problem. It is on top of your other student finance and it isn’t means-tested (it doesn’t matter what your parents/guardians earn), but based on your individual needs. You won’t need to repay it.

The DSA can help to pay for specialist equipment such as a computer or a specialist program (e.g. text-to-speech or speech recognition). It can also pay for things such as a study or mental health mentor, specialist study skills tuition, extra travel because of your disability. It is generally recommended that all students with disabilities, long-term health conditions, and SpLDs apply for the DSA, but if you’re not sure, you can contact the DAS with any enquiries on 01865 280459.

You should apply for the DSA as early as possible so that the support can be put in place sooner:

  • You can apply at the same time as any for other funding, or at any point in your degree. 

  •  https://www.gov.uk/disabled-students-allowances-dsas/how-to-claim provides information and links to help you apply.  You will be provided with a DSA application form, which you need to complete and send to your funding body with supporting evidence of your disability.

  • When you’ve sent off your application form and evidence, you will receive an ‘eligibility letter’. You will then need to attend a Study Needs Assessment. This is an informal meeting with a Needs Assessor to help decide the kind of support that will assist you with your needs. This can take place in various locations: you can have it in the Oxford University Assessment Centre, or use www.dsa-qag.org.uk to find one closer to home.

  • After the assessment, the centre and funding body will organise your funding and equipment. You will receive a letter with details of your support. They will then contact you to organise delivery of any equipment, and the DAS will organise any funded human support (e.g. mentor or SpLD tutors).

If you have any questions, feel free to contact the DAS via phone (01865 280459) or email (disability@admin.ox.ac.uk) or to contact your disability coordinator.

Tips for applying for the DSA:

  • For international students, they require evidence from a British GP, so make sure you get evidence from your home country to get the British (college) GP to confirm your disability.

  • Don't be tempted to understate how your disability affects your life. Just because it's a mental health/psychiatric/learning disability or whatever, doesn't mean that the challenges you face aren't practical problems that you deserve help with.

  • If you are at a college which has money, they may be able to fund your assessment, which gets it done much faster.

  • Apply sooner rather than later so you access the full support you're entitled to from as early as possible during your degree.

  • If you haven't got evidence sorted before you start uni, you will probably have to go through your new, Oxford-based, GP who you are likely to never meet until you're asking them to fill out a form for evidence of your disability. Be really clear with them about your needs and make sure they write everything down that you need to have on that form. 

  • Don't be afraid to ask for lots of things if you need lots of things/

  • The meeting is not an interrogation, they are actually trying to provide you with the best resources for you at this stage. Try not to put that meeting off as the applications build up as time goes on and you might find yours get postponed otherwise. If this happens, call them to ask about it and speak to your DAS person at Oxford and they can possibly work something out for you in the interim.

  • At the needs assessment, if there’s something you would find helpful, ask for it - you might not get it, but it’s more likely if you ask. Don’t be afraid to take your time looking at the different support options (assistive technology etc). 

  • For dyspraxia (and possibly other SpLDs), you need a post-16 adult assessment to receive DSA. For SpLDs, you need an assessment done within two years of the start of your course to receive DSA. Don’t pay out for this if you can’t get it on the NHS, because the DAS will arrange and pay for you to have an assessment by an educational psychologist, which definitely counts.

  • Ask for as much help as possible, even if you don't have a diagnosis yet (many students don’t at the time.) If you do not have a specific diagnosis, it's okay to just write a couple of your symptoms in the box which asks what your disability actually is.

  • You can apply for the DSA literally whenever, but bear in mind it can take about six weeks from applying to get any equipment you might need.

  • Do apply, even if you don't think you need equipment: they offer other services (like providing mental health mentors), recommend exam adjustments or adjustments to your living situation - much more than just providing a laptop or software. It's also much easier to access support from the DAS having already got a DSA.

Oxford SU Disabilities’ Campaign

DisCam is a supportive community which campaigns for better understanding and treatment of disability, as well as supporting and advocating for disabled students at Oxford. If you are having any difficulties, please do get in touch.

Their committee consists of friendly individuals who’ve been through their fair share of issues with the Oxford system - they’ll do our best to help point you in the right direction. They can be emailed at disabilities@oxfordsu.ox.ac.uk or contacted via their facebook page: www.facebook.com/OxfordDisabilities.

The Campaign also runs a variety of confidential Facebook support groups for different conditions, including depression and anxiety, OCD, chronic fatigue, SpLDs, and many more. For a full list, and information on how to join, go to: goo.gl/S5bevX

Another thing DisCam does is a mentoring scheme, where it can pair you up with an older year with a disability (either with the same disability or in the same college), just to help you through the whole process of adjusting to university. It makes DisCam families, which can be really valuable support networks in your time at Oxford. To get involved, get in contact with DisCam or fill in this form: https://forms.gle/LG4aDjq5M3ainizW7

Accessibility

Most of Oxford is flat and so getting around Oxford with a mobility aid is not too difficult.

The Oxford Accessibility Project has mapped (most of) the Colleges for their mobility accessibility! And there's lots of info on the departments too. As a result of this student-led project, the university is in the process of auditing all the university buildings, which you can find on their access guide: https://www.accessguide.ox.ac.uk

There's an app called SociAbility which is an Oxford startup mapping Oxford's mobility accessibility as well.

List of accessible places based on student experience:

  • The gladstone link is a quiet, not busy library space that's not so quiet that it's distracting.

  • Odourless cafes (if you get distracted by smells): EFL, John Lewis x 2, modern art Oxford! 

  • Libraries have the clearest social rules, students have found.

  • Much of Oxford is fairly quiet most of the time which makes it fairly easy to avoid busy places. It is recommended, if you're finding it hard to find somewhere quiet, to walk (or otherwise get) a little bit out of town, you don't have to go very far before you're away from the majority of tourists and students. A lot of Oxford students are fairly disapproving of a journey longer than about 10 minutes, but they can be really worth it.

  • The Student Union

  • Costa near the su. (Wheelchair accessible bathroom and level access)

  • Social Science Library

  • If you have sensory issues, Bridge has a largish outside area which gives a small amount of respite from the sensory overload of music and lights (although does have smoking, some music noise, talking etc, so it depends on your personal situation).

  • Examination Schools - providing access to lifts, so only accessible with an SSP.

  • Ballet classes in Jericho 

  • Ground floor of the RadCam.

Inaccessible Places to avoid (according to student experiences):

  • Lots of colleges and especially college bars lack accessibility in terms of physical access e.g. no stairs, so it's always worth checking ahead.

  • Going out just before 9. If you have lectures at 9 get there early or you may get stuck in a crowd.

  • The missing bean

  • Clubs tend to have a lot going on in terms of sensory inputs, not going to them won't stop you making friends, so do not feel any pressure to go.

  • The centre of town can be quite difficult some days. 

  • Big lecture halls can be bad - speak to someone at DAS about lecture recordings so you can rewatch any you don't manage to process enough of, but do try to go when you can (maybe pack some earplugs and/or things for stimming though). 

  • Hall during dinner

  • If you struggle with balance, some older cobbled streets (such as Rose Lane and Merton Street) can be tricky, you can’t necessarily avoid it but it’s good to be aware. Also in general the main roads are less uneven than taking shortcuts through the back streets. 

  • The Art Café is cute, but if you can’t get a seat downstairs the staircase is narrow and difficult to carry drinks up.

  • Upper floors of RadCam (and the basement - only easily accessible through wheelchair lift). 

  • The side gate on Broad Street towards the Sheldonian does not fit a wheelchair through it (too thin) but there are other entrances- the Sheldonian for Matriculation is really accessible as long as coordinators are aware of your disability although the walking/standing/photos for matriculation can be difficult - wear shoes as close to trainers as you can.

  • If you get sensory overload, then avoid Cornmarket street where possible, especially at lunchtime and in the evening when people are walking about. 

  • The High Street can get quite busy. 

General advice

Be Prepared

  • You may want to print out a college map and mark accessible places, such as toilets, on there, to help you in your first few weeks in Oxford.

  • Emailing the tutors earlier rather than later with as much detail as you are comfortable sharing about your disability would be a great thing to do before tutorials start. It is also worth doing this every time you get a new tutor, as often colleges and faculties have less good communication.

  • Another thing students found really helpful is to always carry a couple of flashcards with key information about them/ their disability/how to help them. This means if they are unable to speak, they can hand that to someone who might be able to help. 

  • Get in contact with the DAS as soon as you can to get everything in place.

  • Let your college family know about your disability before you start, with a rough guide on what problems you might have and what situations are likely to cause those problems, what to look for to tell if you are having a problem, and how to help you. This can be useful during Freshers' week, when you may not have a support network of friends yet.

  • Download something like "emergency chat" onto your phone, where you can pre-write messages to show to people for various problems you have (eg. a screen saying "I am having a panic attack right now. I need to move somewhere quiet and with few people. I need to drink some water, and breathe slowly. Can you help?" - particularly useful if you are liable to become non-verbal or have other issues communicating).

  • When you arrive and unpack, decide where everything should be kept and stick to it. That way you lose less things, and you’re less likely to reach the point of mess where you can’t cope with sorting it out. 

  • Make lists of what equipment you need for different activities (such as tutorials, lectures, cooking, socialising) so that you can check it off before you go. 

  • If you struggle with getting organised in the morning, pack your bag and pick your clothes out the night before. For online lectures, try to make time to start listening to lectures at the same time each day, and keep up with the weekly lecture list as you go along. It helps to have a colour coded timetable for different activities, including broken down chunks of work.

  • Let your tutors know in advance if you've been triggered and will still be a little wobbly during a tute: they might even be able to reschedule for you.

Ask for what you need

  • "Wishful thinking", assuming you'll manage because you "have to", does not get you very far: if you need adjustments, you need adjustments, and the university is legally obliged to make them.

  • Tutors are generally quite good at providing the support that is outlined on your SSP, adjustments that you need to be able to work efficiently and healthily, but occasionally this isn’t the case.

  • It may be that the tutor doesn’t properly understand your condition, or they may think that you don’t need it because you appear to be coping fine, but that doesn’t mean that you have to put up with it.

  • If you feel that you’re not being provided the support that you need, do not be afraid to let your tutor’s know, either directly or through your disability lead.

  • You may feel self-conscious or worried that you’re ‘causing problems’ but it’s important that you are given the support that you need to flourish.

  • Some colleges are more helpful than others in terms of accessibility- if you feel your college isn't as accessible as you expected when you start, don't be afraid to ask about the possibility or transfering to a more accessible college, or better accomodation at least.

  • If you're worried about accessibility for any event/meeting/lecture etc. then message the organiser (e.g. message the society on Facebook). It's a pain but you can then you could also point out to them that they can put accessibility information in the Facebook description.

  • There is no shame in asking a friend to email on your behalf, particularly if you are in the middle of an episode and sending an email yourself would be disproportionately difficult, or else impossible for you. If your college has a Disabled Students’ Representative or similar on the JCR committee, they will also be very happy to help with issues to do with contacting tutors/ college staff.

You don’t have to do everything:

  • University can be a very busy and overwhelming place, with lots of things to do, societies to join, and people to meet. 

  • Especially when you first arrive at university, you can feel pressured to take part in everything that you can, and especially to attend every fresher’s event.

  • You will find people who will hang out with you somewhere you are able to relax without worrying about access. They might be in college, in your subject, or in a society doing something you love - or in all of these and more!

  • Do not feel guilty about cancelling plans last-minute. Your health is your top priority.

Studying can be hard

  • Get a routine to ensure that your work does not get too piled up, and you don’t get anxious about having too much to do.

  • Try to get alternative exam arrangement approved quite early on

  • Your mental health is more important than your work, and taking days off is ok and you won’t fail your degree if you do.

  • Don’t pay attention to other people’s achievements and hours spent in the library, focus on yourself and just do what you can. Passing your subjects is okay, you don’t have to be the best of the best. You’re already at the top uni in the country, being here is already so impressive. Visit home if and when you can, and if this is something that’s good for you.

  • If something happens and you need to take time off, be assertive in asking for it, and do not push yourself to make classes you won’t benefit from.

  • Extended library loans are fantastic. Look through your reading lists at the beginning of the term, take all the books out you can get and put them in your room for the days when you may not be able to get out of bed.

Don’t be ashamed

  • Don’t let other people establish a standard for you, you know yourself better than anyone else.

  • Hidden disabilities are valid, but not as well understood - but that doesn't mean people won't try their best! So go ahead and join societies/JCR/sports if you'd like, and I promise your peers will try their best to accommodate you - e.g. holding committee meetings near your college, giving you extra time due to chronic fatigue etc.

  • Wear trainers, wear a rucksack and sit on benches when needed.

  • Don't feel ashamed about using coping mechanisms for your disability in public, like stimming or wearing ear defenders in the library. It's none of their business what you're doing, particularly if it's something that helps you function better. 

Final Reminders:

  • Don't think you have to handle your problems alone- there's support out there, and you shouldn't waste time not accessing it. Oxford is a challenging place, but it's also one of the most fascinating, fun, and magical places in the world, so make sure you ask for help at the right time so you can make the most of your years as a student here! You can do it.

  • You are stronger than what you think.

  • Ask for help when you are struggling.

  • Be nice to yourself.

  • Prioritise your health even if it seems hard. 

  • Remember your worth, that you belong at Oxford, and that you’re not inconvenient or a burden on anyone. Keep your head up and be proud, put yourself out there!