CDP25: Changes to the Disabled Students’ Allowance – what does it mean for students, universities and libraries?

Foundling Museum, Brunswick Square, 24th April 2016.

The government has proposed changes to the way Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) will be managed. This will have implications for Higher Education Institutions (HEI). Some changes could specifically have implications for Library Services. Many Librarians have been discussing what can be done to prepare, support students and anticipate and mitigate any impact.

Session 1: Kevin Wilson (for Barry Haywood) Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) Changes 2016 Goldsmiths’ perspective.

This presentation outlined the history of disability law and rights up to where we are now with the Equality Act of 2010; where discrimination of protected characteristics is unlawful and public institutions are required to make reasonable adjustments and be anticipatory in making changes to procedures and premises.

We were reminded about the social model of disability – which focusses on the removal of the disabling barriers to access, rather than viewing impairment as a barrier.

The presentation emphasised the positive aspects of HEIs taking more responsibility, working towards inclusivity to empower the student and fostering independence rather than individual reliance on DSA to remove those barriers.

Access, inclusivity and reasonable adjustments

In its DSA guidance, the Department for Business Innovation & Skills describes a model of disability support which starts with inclusive practice as the base upon which institutions should seek to develop. Reasonable adjustments should be implemented in situations  where inclusive practice does not address specific needs. If there is still need remaining, individual support (such as DSA) should be provided.

Currently DSA is put in place to assist students in removing those barriers to learning and providing additional support.  As a result of the DSA changes, guidance has shifted to HEIs working towards inclusive practice (making services and premises accessible to all).

DSA changes

The DSA generally covers: equipment, non-medical help, a general allowance, travel and accommodation.

Previously Computer equipment was supplied by the DSA. Students will now need to contribute £200. Digital recorders will no longer be provided. The general allowance, which included costs towards books and printing, is unlikely to continue. Internet costs will no longer be funded.

DSA will no longer cover band 1 and 2 support workers including: Practical support assistants, Library support assistants, Readers, Scribes/note takers and transcription workers. However band 3 and 4 specialist support will continue to be funded, including: electronic note takers, communication support and British Sign Language support, specialist mentoring and 1:1 study skills and assistive technology training.

Universities will also be expected to provide full access to reading materials and online resources by providing access to alternative formats if required.


Session 2: Inclusive libraries – what can we do? Sara Osman University of the Arts London (UAL)

Sara presented the practical measures which UAL Library Services had already put in place, or are working towards, to improve inclusivity whilst still supporting specialist needs with reasonable adjustments. The presentation started again with reference to the Equality Act of 2010 adding that the public sector had a duty to provide equality of experience.

The idea of reasonable adjustments was also explored, some finer details of which are that:

  • The cost must be reasonable (this is within the context of a large organization so only something like a large adjustment to the building could be judged as outside of reasonable)
  • They must be consistent with health and safety
  • They must not impact the quality of experience of other students
  • They must not impact on the curriculum.
  • They should be ‘anticipatory’ and you cannot pass the cost to the student.

Sara also spoke about the social model of disability, giving some practical examples of how libraries can remove barriers to access. Such as, under a “medical model”, impairment could be identified as “difficulty carrying books”, however under the “social model”, the barrier is the high shelves. An inclusive solution would be to lower shelving and additionally, reasonable adjustments can be provided with a service to retrieve materials.

Looking at the bigger picture, Libraries can improve their services for students by:

  • Understanding where they are now
  • Putting accessibility at the heart of procurement decisions (i.e. resources)
  • Developing an inclusive approach
  • Being clear with your communications
  • Bearing in mind that a medical model approach is still needed in some cases where needs are complex.

UAL Accessibility Audit

UAL conducted an accessibility audit of their library spaces using Access audit handbook ISBN: 9781859464922. Things to look out for include accessible Library entrance and circulation areas, suitable doors and furniture, and high visibility and contrast to fixtures, fittings, furniture and signage (in particular with security gates or anything Perspex on a white background). Routes should be clear and unobstructed, and signage should be clear and well designed.

Some small quick improvements UAL Library were able to implement included: coloured edges to security gates using tape, perch stools by printers for students waiting for print outs, and consistent clear signage.

Larger improvements included: seating with better visual contrast and Maglocks to hold open heavy doors.

Larger, longer term improvements UAL also liaised with suppliers for accessible solutions. Their new library catalogue is an open source product which has embedded accessibility features. In the future they are looking to buy accessible self-issue machines.

Inclusive approaches

Sara discussed inclusive services and resources for all students, which at UAL include:

  • Access & Inclusion librarian role
  • Sharing good practice
  • Site licences for software such as Texthelp R&W Gold, Inspiration
  • Inclusive library catalogue
  • One-to-ones with librarians
  • Intersite reservations
  • Cream paper for printing/copying in Multi-Functional Devices

Clear communication

Following good practice for written content (either online or printed collateral) is also important for communicating effectively to all students. Text should be left-aligned using a sans-serif font and sentence case, using short sentences with active verbs. Don’t use jargon A pastel coloured background can ease readability.

Alternative formats

We still need to use a medical model approach in order to supply alternative formats (where print and or commercial ebooks are not accessible) and comply with copyright legislation Copyright and Rights in Performances (Disability) Regulations (2014). RNIB Bookshare (previously Load2Learn) is a useful and emerging repository to facilitate this.

Session 3: Two-part discussion exercise: Where are you now and where are you going?

This was an interactive session loosely following the concept of the design charrette; giving us the opportunity to share ideas, meet our colleagues across institutions and identify barriers and solutions within our own workplaces. We addressed six areas of a theoretical  library’s services and resources, including: accessible library spaces, clear communication, useful technologies and equipment, helpful staff, resources, and student considerations (i.e. feedback).

We first identified existing modes of inclusivity, accessibility, or more specialist anticipatory services at our institutions. We then repeated the exercise with a view to where our institution should be in the future in order to fully meet all students’ needs.

There were four persons to a table and after a few minutes of discussion one pair moved clock- wise whilst the other pair moved counter-clockwise around the room until we had an A2 sheet full of good practices.

An interesting idea, which I found out about, is that one library offers shopping baskets to all students to carry their books between floors and the check out points. (This library does it too.) I think wheeled baskets – such as those in Whole Foods would provide even greater mobility of books across floors.

Please let me know if you are interested in seeing any of the slides, handouts or outcomes from the design charrette.

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