A guide to DSA
For those of you who don’t know, I’m currently in my first year of university. It’s funny because thinking back to when I was in year 11, I didn’t actually want to go to university at all. I had no idea what career I wanted to do, and I knew that I wouldn’t be ready to live away from home. However, I had always been interested in anything psychology-related and after taking psychology as an A-Level I found that I really enjoyed studying it. My dad then looked into the University of Hertfordshire, and found that it would be possible for me to commute there each day. I didn’t know this, I’d always presumed university meant living away from home. As I began to find out more information about university, I decided that I would like to study psychology at a local university where I could commute. I then heard that there was a university in Cambridge other than Cambridge University itself, Anglia Ruskin University. The ‘typical’ option for going to university seems to be living at the university, so I was questioned by quite a few people about my choice of university. People thought I would be fine living away from home, that I’d be missing out on the ‘university experience’ by living at home. It was so frustrating, as my dyspraxia and cerebral palsy mean that I just wouldn’t get on well living away from home yet – I’m not as independent as other people my age, I struggle with changes in routines (moving away from home would be a huge change!), meeting new people can be difficult for me (so living with people I’ve never even met before would be very hard). Maybe if I was starting university in a few years time I would consider living away from home but I knew that I wasn’t ready to live away from home yet, and not everyone realised that which was really frustrating. So as you can probably tell I was so glad when I’d finally submitted my application…and I was delighted to receive an unconditional offer from my favourite choice of university! I accepted my offer in January and applied for DSA (Disabled Students’ Allowance) at the end of February, after I had completed my Student Finance application.
The Disabled Students’ Allowance is something that had been mentioned a lot during my visits to universities when I spoke to the disability support departments. For those of you who have a disability and are applying for university I would definitely recommend speaking to the disability support departments on your visits – it’s so important to know what support is available. Two of the universities I visited had brilliant disability support departments, but another university was the complete opposite. The person spoke to me in the most patronising tone of voice, in addition to the fact that she just assumed I had dyslexia before I’d even said what disability I had (she seemed to automatically rule out the fact that I could have a physical disability just because I didn’t have an ‘obvious’ disability). Believe it or not she was actually the person in charge of the support for dyslexia and dyspraxia, and she could also support me with my ‘other things’ (yes, those were her exact words). But anyway, it’s safe to say I didn’t apply for that university!
So anyway, you may be wondering by now what DSA actually is! DSA stands for Disabled Students’ Allowance. It is a grant that pays for the cost of extra support that is needed by disabled students at university to put us at the same level as everyone else. While it is classed as a grant, students do not receive the money directly. For example, for equipment the money is paid by student finance directly to the equipment suppliers, and for study support the money is paid by student finance to the university providing the study support. We had a few talks about student finance from external organisations at school, and whenever DSA was mentioned it would be described as a grant for students with disabilities – they never went into any further detail about it. I found that annoying, as they made it sound as though DSA is extra money just because you have a disability, which it’s not!
Despite the use of the word ‘disabled’ in “Disabled Students’ Allowance” you may find that you are eligible for it even if you don’t necessarily consider yourself to be disabled. You may be eligible for DSA if you have a:
- Physical disability – e.g. cerebral palsy, spina bifida.
- Sensory impairment – e.g. visual impairment, hearing impairment.
- Specific learning difficulty, e.g. dyspraxia, dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, ADD/ADHD.
- ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder)
- Mental health condition – e.g. depression, anxiety.
- Long-term health condition – e.g. epilepsy, diabetes.
The above list is by no means exhaustive, if you have something that I haven’t listed that doesn’t mean that you won’t be eligible for DSA.
There are different aspects of DSA, there’s: an equipment allowance, a non-medical helper’s allowance, a general allowance, and a travel allowance.
- Firstly, you need to get evidence for your disability/condition. This can be quite complicated as the evidence you need differs depending on what it is that you have.
- For a physical disability, sensory impairment, mental health condition or long-term health condition you will need a report or letter from your doctor or consultant that confirms that you have a particular disability/condition and outlines how it will affect your study. Or you can ask a medical professional to fill in a medical evidence form (for some reason this form isn’t mentioned very much, I didn’t actually know it existed until after my application!)
- A Specific Learning Difficulty seems to be the most complicated to get evidence for. According to the student finance guidelines, you will need a diagnostic assessment from a psychologist or a suitably qualified specialist teacher. This assessment has to be done after the age of 16 (I find this ridiculous, it’s not as though you’re going to grow out of it!) However, it was pointed out to me by my university disability support that there are two routes for a dyspraxia diagnosis. There is the medical route, and then there is the educational psychologist route – and the up-to-date evidence you need will depend on the route you got diagnosed. Sounds simple? No, it all got very complicated (but I’ll go into more detail about that later). My advice would be if you have a Specific Learning Difficulty, try using the evidence you have first before paying hundreds of pounds for an up-to-date assessment by a psychologist!
- For an autistic spectrum disorder, you will need a report or letter from a doctor or consultant that confirms that you have autism and outlines how it will affect your study or if you have a statement of SEN from school, this can also be used as evidence. Why they don’t say you can use a statement as evidence for other disabilities I have no idea…
The details of the evidence required for ASD aren’t even listed on the student finance website, it’s not until you actually click on the DSA form that it tells you the evidence that is needed.The whole system for medical evidence is just overly complicated – student finance really need to do something to make it simpler!
- Next, you will need to fill out the DSA application form. If you have already applied for Student Finance you will need to fill out the short form and you will not have to re-apply for DSA each year. However, if you have not applied for Student Finance or you are a part-time or post-graduate student you will need to fill out the full form. In the short form you will need to fill out: your personal details, other financial support you may receive, details of your disability and how it affects your study, details about your current laptop/computer, your consent and your bank details. You will also need to make sure that all of the evidence is enclosed. I’d definitely recommend filling in this form as soon as possible, as the process can be a long one! You are able to apply for DSA as soon as you have applied for student finance, and I think you are usually able to apply for student finance in January. Some people don’t apply for DSA until they have started university, and that is sometimes because people don’t get diagnosed with dyspraxia, dyslexia etc. until they are actually at university, but if possible definitely try to apply for DSA as early as possible so that you will hopefully have the support in place for when you start.
- You will then receive a letter from student finance to confirm whether you are eligible for DSA. You should receive this within 12 working days. If you are not eligible for DSA then get in contact with your university disability support team to see what support they can provide, such as exam arrangements etc.
- If you are eligible for DSA, you will need to choose an assessment centre where you will have your needs assessment. There is a specific website which has a list of approved assessment centres, which can be found here. Some assessment centres will be based at universities, others will be based at colleges. You don’t have to choose the assessment centre which is at your chosen university but personally I wish I had, as I think it would have made the whole process a lot simpler!
- Once you have chosen an assessment centre, you will need to get in contact with the centre to arrange an assessment. The date of the needs assessment should be within 15 working days of you contacting the assessment centre.
- You will then be sent documents from the assessment centre with information about the needs assessment. You will also be asked to send the assessment centre some documents. You will need to send them:
- The letter from SFE to confirm that you are eligible for DSA
- The medical evidence you sent with your DSA application
- A completed pre-assessment form (this is something which the assessment centre will send you, and it asks various questions such as: your personal details, your course details, contact details for your university disability team, details about your disability and what support you received in the past, your needs for the meeting (e.g. whether you need a reserved disabled parking space), details of the computer you currently have). This assessment form will be attached to your DSA needs assessment report
- A consent form
- The next stage is the needs assessment itself. You are allowed to have your parents with you in the needs assessment, but they do mainly direct the questions at you rather than your parents. It is quite relaxed and informal, and it’s not a test it’s just a chat.
- You will firstly have to sign a few forms and they will go through your personal details. You will also asked information about your previous studies and what support you received.
- Then you will be told a bit about what DSA is, that it is there to put you on a level playing field with everyone else.
- The needs assessor will then go through a checklist of the ways your disability affects you. It’s a table with different categories, such as: handwriting, reading speed, concentration, mood, physical health, energy levels, communication, hearing. The assessor will read each category out loud and you just have to say if it affects you or not, and if so they will put a tick in the box.
- Your needs asssessor will then ask you about different areas of studying and will ask whether you have any difficulties in those areas. They will talk about areas such as: proof-reading, note-taking, mobility, communication and interaction. You and your needs assessor will talk about any difficulties you might have and what support can be provided to assist you.
- If there is any equipment that might be helpful, you will be given the opportunity to try it. For any software that might be helpful, your needs assessor will briefly describe how it works and show it to you. Sometimes there may be two different pieces of software that do the same thing, so you will be shown both and will be able to decide which one would be better for you. Don’t worry, you don’t need to remember all the details about how to use the software at this stage! If you are recommended any assistive software you will also be recommended assistive technology training sessions.
- If a laptop is recommended, you will be required to pay the first £200 towards it as it is considered something that all students will require anyway, regardless of whether they have a disability or not.
- As well as specialist equipment and software, you may also be recommended sessions with a non-medical helper. This could be one-to-one study skills support (to help with things such as organisation, planning, revision strategies), a notetaker, a scribe, a mentor etc.
- You may also be recommended an allowance for general costs. This covers things such as reimbursement for the cost of paper and ink cartridges – this will be recommended if you need to do more printing than other students would due to your disability.
- The other aspect of DSA is the travel allowance. For example, if there is a reason due to your disability which means you would need to get a taxi as part of your journey to university, then the cost of this can be covered. Although if there is the option of getting public transport, you will need to pay the cost of this as this is what any other student would have to pay – and student finance will cover the difference.
- The assessor will also discuss with you, and make a note of, any recommendations for the university so that your needs can be met. An example of a recommendation might be to make sure that you are provided with a copy of the powerpoint slides before the lecture, so that you can read through it beforehand and therefore have less new information to process during the lecture. Although I think most universities tend to make the powerpoint slides available before the lecture anyway.
- You will also discuss what exam arrangements you have had in the past and the needs assessor will make a recommendation of exam arrangements for university.
- As the needs assessor pointed out in my assessment, the report they write doesn’t mean it is guaranteed that you will receive that support – it still has to be approved by student finance.
- Needs assessments usually last around 2 hours. At the end you will be asked to sign some forms and you will be asked if you would like a draft copy of your report (it will only make the process 3 days longer so it’s definitely worth doing this).
- There are some changes being made to DSA starting from this September. I don’t know that much about them but from looking at this link they only appear to be minor changes.
- After your needs assessment you will need to email your needs assessor any additional information, if required. For example, I needed to email my needs assessor information about the bus fares for the travel aspect of DSA.
- Within 10 days after your needs assessment you will then be emailed your draft DSA report. They are very detailed! At the end of the report there will be quotes from 3 different equipment suppliers. You will be given 3 days to respond to your report, as it has to be sent to student finance within 10 days of your needs assessment. So if there are any changes you would like to be made to your report, make sure you respond within the time limit given.
- When your report is sent to student finance, you will be sent an email to inform you and you will also receive a copy of the final version of your report.
- You will then receive a ds2 letter from student finance – this should be within 15 working days of them receiving it. This will tell you the allowances you are eligible for. The frustrating thing is that this doesn’t actually list the exact equipment that SFE have approved, so if the amounts are different to the quotes listed in your report there is no way of knowing at this stage what they haven’t approved!
- You will then need to follow the steps on your ds2 letter in order to get your support put in place.
- For equipment, you will need to contact the equipment supplier. They will ask for a copy of your ds2 letter. You will then be sent a list of the equipment that is supplied to you – make sure you check this carefully and compare it to your needs assessment report as mistakes can be made! Once they have received your ds2 letter and you have confirmed that the equipment list is correct you will be able to arrange a date for your equipment to be delivered and set up. This should be within the next 10 working days. You can choose for the equipment to be delivered to either your home address or to your university.
- For assistive technology training, this will usually be the same company as your equipment supplier. If this is the case then your first session will normally be at the same time as when your equipment is delivered and set up. If not, then you will need to contact the supplier for assistive technology training separately.
- For any non-medical helper support provided by the university, you will need to get in contact with the university to arrange this. Normally your first session will be after your course has started, and it doesn’t take too long to arrange.
- For travel allowances, you will need to get in contact with the taxi company to get an account set up. Or you may be told that the costs of the taxi will be reimbursed to you – in this case you don’t need to contact a taxi company as it most likely won’t be a specific company.
- There may also be a company you need to contact regarding insurance for your equipment, the details of this will be on your ds2 letter.
- It is also suggested that you get in contact with the disability support department at your university to discuss any arrangements that need to be put in place.
- Then is the best part, the day when your equipment is delivered! If everything goes smoothly this should be before your course starts. It will usually take around an hour and a half. The equipment supplier will set up your equipment and install the software onto your laptop. If your assistive technology training is with the same supplier they will be able to show you how to use the software – if not they can only give you a very brief introduction to the software.
- During your assistive technology software training session the trainer will go through the pieces of software one by one and find out what you already know about it and show you how to use it. They will also show you how to use any equipment that you may have such as a voice recorder and a printer/scanner. These sessions will usually 2 hours and you will usually be entitled to 4 of these sessions. You can choose to have these sessions whenever you like but having at least one before your course starts might be helpful to familiarise yourself with your equipment and software. Again, these sessions can take place either at home or at your university accommodation.
- Finally, if your ds2 letter states that you are able to get the cost of certain items reimbursed, then you will need to send the receipts/invoice to DSA_team@slc.co.uk. If you include the word ‘claim’ in the subject of the email then the email will be directed straight through to the claims team – making the process slightly quicker.
So that’s the DSA process. It is quite complex and there are lots of stages involved, but according to the DSA website it should take 14 weeks. 14 weeks?! Guess how long mine has taken? …nearly a whole year! For me the process has been nowhere near as simple as I’ve described above, the amount of problems I’ve had is ridiculous! So I’ve described what should happen, and here’s what actually happened…
The first problem I came across was right at the beginning of the application (around May in year 12) – it was the evidence needed. This is because whilst cerebral palsy is classed as a physical disability, dyspraxia is classed as a specific learning difficulty (which in this case was very annoying!) So the evidence required for cerebral palsy was quite simple, just a letter from my GP to confirm that I have CP. For dyspraxia, however, I was told that I would need an educational psychologist report that was carried out after the age of 16.
But if I had both disabilities would I need both pieces of evidence? Some people told me to just get the evidence for my CP and just put my disability down as CP, as dyspraxia and CP can have quite a bit in common anyway. I explained, though, that dyspraxia affects me differently to how I would be affected if I just had CP – such as the way dyspraxia affects my memory and organisation.
I went to my GP, and she said that she would be able to write a letter with the facts regarding my CP by looking back at my records but that I would need to contact my school about the evidence required for dyspraxia, as it would need to be done by a specialist teacher or educational psychologist. My school said that it would be unlikely that I would be able to be assessed by their eduational psychologist, so they tried to get in contact with the Low Incidence Team (who work with students with physical and neurological disabilities), but they were unable to get in contact with them (although I did have a meeting with them a few months later at the beginning of year 13 anyway).
In the meantime, I went to pick up the letter from my GP regarding evidence of CP. We were firstly told that we would have to pay £15 for it – £15 for a letter that might not even contain the correct information? My GP had never even mentioned this charge originally! As we didn’t know if the letter would actually contain the information required, my dad asked if he could take a photo of it before actually taking it and having to pay for it. It’s a good job we did as it was an extremely short letter that didn’t even mention CP (yet it very briefly mentioned dyspraxia, even though she had made it sound as though she wouldn’t be able to write about this).
Then after speaking to someone else who had been through the DSA application process and phoning my university’s disability support department (I did try phoning student finance but they couldn’t give me the information I needed), it sounded as though I wouldn’t need post 16 evidence for dyspraxia. I would be able to get a letter from my GP to say that I have CP and dyspraxia, explaining how it will affect my study and if I could get hold of the report from my original diagnosis of dyspraxia (from when I was 3) then this might also be useful. I let my school know about this, and they also pointed out that I could use the report from a specialist teacher from the Low Incidence Team from when I was in year 10. By this time it was June and my exams were coming up, so I didn’t get round to looking into it properly again until the summer of year 13.
We then tried to arrange an appointment with my GP to get a letter written to say that I have both CP and dyspraxia, but being a typical Doctor’s surgery getting an appointment wasn’t easy! My doctor had gone on maternity leave, so the appointment I had was with a different GP (GP and CP are far too similar – just then I wrote CP instead of GP!) to the one I would normally have. Beforehand I had written a list of how my disability affects my study, which I gave to the doctor so that she could talk about it in her letter. Coincidentally, it turned out that the doctor we saw had a son who had dyspraxia, who was at university, and he had also applied for DSA! She said that she would be able to write a letter about my CP, but for dyspraxia I would need to have an assessment done by a specialist teacher or an educational psychologist. So we were back to the beginning again! Although she did point out that this was because when her son had the assessment done for evidence for his dyspraxia it talked about the processing difficulties he had, and that a letter from her on it’s own might not be enough to cover this and she wanted to make sure that I had enough evidence to get the support I needed. So me and my dad thought we would look into getting an assessment by an educational psychologist, so we looked into it online and to have it done privately it costs around £400! We then got in contact with my school again, but they said that it was very unlikely that I would meet the threshold to be assessed by their educational psychologist. We then went to pick up the letter the GP had written about my CP, and it seemed ideal! She’d confirmed I’d had CP and talked about how it affected my study.
In December I went on another open day to the university I was most likely going to choose. Me and my dad spoke to the disability support department again and we were then told that the evidence required for dyspraxia depended on where you were diagnosed – as you can either be diagnosed by a paediatrician or a psychologist. If you were diagnosed by a paediatrician then the post 16 evidence you will need is medical evidence, whereas if you were diagnosed by a psychologist then the post 16 evidence you will need will need to be carried out by a psychologist. The next day the person we had spoken to from the disability support department emailed me and had a look at the evidence I already had to see if she thought that would cover my needs. She thought that the evidence would be okay, but suggested applying as early as possible so that if something does go wrong with the evidence then there is time to sort it out.
Me and my dad were still a bit unsure as it had all been so complicated (so complicated and we hadn’t even started the application yet!) so my dad phoned student finance. My dad explained that we wouldn’t be able to afford to have the dyspraxia assessment done privately and at first they said that I had to have the assessment done, but then they spoke to someone else and said to just go with the evidence we’d got. How that worked I have no idea, but that was about as certain as we were going to get about it (which still wasn’t very certain!)
The frustrating thing throughout this was that I was thinking, why is it that it’s so simple to get evidence for CP but so complicated for dyspraxia? It’s not as though you grow out of dyspraxia – it’s a lifelong disability just as CP is!
The application for student finance didn’t open till the end of January/beginning of February, so I applied for student finance at the beginning of February and I applied for DSA at the end of February once my student finance application had been approved. In case you’ve lost track of all the evidence, letters, reports etc. by this point (I know I certainly had!) the evidence I eventually used was:
- The letter the GP had written about CP (that rhymes!)
- The reports by the specialist teachers from the Low Incidence Team (1 was from year 10 and 2 were from year 13)
- A letter from 2002 from the hospital which stated that I have both dyspraxia and ataxia (the type of cerebral palsy I have)
I can’t remember when it was, but at one point when we were trying to get the evidence required I had to fill in a form which requested for me to view my medical records (although we didn’t end up needing to use any medical records other than the ones I had already got anyway). The form stated that written consent was needed. Me being a typical dyspraxic literal thinker thought that written consent literally meant hand-written consent – the irony of literal thinking when the form we were filling out was for something related to dyspraxia!
In addition to all the confusion about the evidence, I had also heard that student finance would be making cuts to DSA which would start in September, but they weren’t making it very clear what these cuts were so I had no idea how they would affect me and whether I would still even be eligible for DSA. I later found out that they had postponed these cuts, which was a relief!
So the next stage was to fill out the DSA application form. The form was quite simple to fill out. One of the parts of the form asked for full details of your disability. It was quite difficult to just sum up the main aspects, and the box they gave wasn’t very big either (although to be fair they did have space for additional information at the end). The funny thing is, I was writing about having difficulties with handwriting and it actually took me multiple attempts to write! I kept making mistakes and having to start again, but I got there in the end after about five attempts.
So then the DSA application form along with the evidence was sent off. I was still really uncertain about the evidence, but there was nothing I could do apart from send it off and hope for the best!
I heard back quite quickly. I had an email with a letter attached saying that I was eligible for DSA for cerebral palsy and dyspraxia – which was such a relief! Me and my dad both thought that was great as it meant the most complicated part was over…we had no idea how complicated it would get!
The next part was for me to choose an assessment centre. I had a look at the website and decided to either choose the one which was nearest to me or the one which was based at my choice of university. I chose the one that was nearest to me as I had heard that it doesn’t have to be at your choice of university. I wish I hadn’t as I think the whole process would have been a lot simpler if I had just chosen my university’s assessment centre!
So I then phoned the assessment centre centre (this was at the beginning of March). They told me that student finance were issuing new guidelines for needs assessments and that these new guidelines were supposed to be coming out that day. So I went ahead and arranged an appointment for the following week, hoping that student finance would have issued the new guidelines by then.
I then filled out the forms that were required, including my pre-assessment form for the report, and emailed them to the assessment centre. I received a reply the next day where they said that they still hadn’t received the new guidelines from student finance but they would keep me informed.
I then had a phone call a couple of days later to say that my appointment would have to be cancelled as student finance had still not issued the new guidelines (I soon learnt that student finance and organisation just don’t go together). The assessment centre said that I would be the first to know when the guidelines came through.
I was then contacted about 3 weeks later as the assessment centre had received the guidelines. I arranged an appointment, by this time my appointment was arranged for the middle of April.
Next was the needs assessment itself. There wasn’t really a lot of information about the needs assessment process online, so I didn’t really know what to expect. When I arrived, firstly they got my name wrong – twice! They then didn’t seem to want my dad to be there during the assessment. They asked him if he would be doing some shopping while I was there and when he said that he was planning on staying there they pointed out how long the needs assessment was going to take. If this happens to any of you and you want someone to be with you in your needs assessment, make sure they insist that they stay as they are allowed to! I was glad my dad did stay during the assessment as, although the assessor mainly spoke to me, there were some points where my dad could explain things much better than I could.
One of the questions I was asked near the beginning was what laptop I currently had. This was going to be complicated as I was currently using a laptop I had been loaned through school (which would be given back at the end of the year), and I also had an old laptop at home, but for my birthday (in May) I would be getting a new laptop – a Macbook. At first the needs assessor suggested waiting before getting a new laptop as I might be able to have one partly funded by DSA, but she then said that she didn’t think that they would fund a MacBook and that they would only fund Windows laptops. It would have been so much easier if I had just said that I had already got a MacBook and would have prevented a lot of later problems!
So in the needs assessment they went through the different areas of studying and we talked about how my disabilities affect me and I was able to try out different equipment. We were talking about typing and I explained how, although I find it much easier than writing, my arms do still tire when typing. So I got to try out some armrests to see if I think they would be helpful. They are so helpful – I’m using them now when writing this blog post. The other equipment I received was: a laptop stand (with a keyboard & mouse), a printer/scanner/copier, a voice recorder, a microphone, headset, a book chair, a wrist rest and a roller trolley backpack. (The laptop stand in the photo is one I bought myself, not funded by DSA.)
I also received assistive software: ClaroRead (text-to-speech software), Dragon dictate (speech-to-text software), MindView (mind-mapping software), Audio Notetaker (software that allows you to import powerpoint slides, notes, and audio together so that you can have your lecture notes along with recordings all in one place).
For the software I had 4 x 2 hour sessions of assistive technology training. The other support I had was one-to-one study skills support for up to 30 hours per year – this is to help with study skills such as planning and organisation.
I received a travel allowance which meant that I would have a taxi account set up between my house and the train station (I commute to university) and the train station in Cambridge and my university. I would pay the cost of public transport and the rest of the cost would be funded by DSA.
I also got a general allowance, which meant that I could get up to £75 reimbursed per year for the cost of paper, ink cartidges and photocopying as I need to do more printing and photocopying than students without a disability would.
I was glad that I had put dyspraxia down on my application for DSA and not just CP as I did feel that a lot of the support I received, such as one-to-one study skills support, was more to do with the way my dyspraxia affects me than my CP. I was surprised at the amount of support there was available through DSA, as I’d had no idea beforehand what to expect.
My needs assessment lasted 2 hours and I requested to have a draft copy of my needs assessment report. I was asked to find out some more information about the cost of a bus fare (for the cost of public transport) between Cambridge train station and my university, so I did this after the assessment and emailed the information to the assessment centre.
After I’d had my needs assessment, me and my dad said to each other “At least that’s the main part done now” (we were wrong again! A tip for DSA, don’t ever feel relieved at any stage until everything is sorted).
5 days later I was then sent my draft DSA report. I couldn’t believe how detailed it was – altogether including the quotes at the end it was just over 50 pages long! I was asked to respond within 3 days. There were some mistakes in the report, so I emailed the assessment centre about this and they responded the next day.
I was then sent the final version of my DSA report 4 days later and I was told that it had been sent to student finance. There was still a slight error regarding the cost for the travel allowance, so I emailed the assessment centre to inform them of this. They said that they would forward it to the centre manager, but I never heard back from them about this!
I had no idea how long I should wait to hear back from student finance (I now know that it should take about 15 days) so I ended up waiting a whole month and I still hadn’t received a ds2 letter (to confirm what allowances I would be eligible for). So I phoned student finance, only for them to say that they hadn’t received my needs assessment report! So I’d waited a whole month while nothing was even happening! I then phoned my assessment centre and they said they had sent the needs assessment report. So where had it gone wrong?!
My needs assessment centre got in contact with student finance and then phoned me back. Apparently, my needs assessment report had been lost as the email had been overlooked by student finance. I was told that the student finance had said that I would be their priority, and my assessment centre said to give them a call if I didn’t hear anything within a week.
Typically, I didn’t hear anything within a week. So I phoned my needs assessment centre, and apparently there had been a query and they were waiting for my needs assessor to get back to them (it would have been helpful if they had actually contacted me to inform me of this). I was told to wait another week.
So for another week I waited, and again I waited for a phone call that I was never going to receive. So I phoned student finance this time. I was told that there were emails going backwards and forwards between my assessment centre and student finance regarding the travel aspect of DSA, but they didn’t actually tell me what the problem was. They informed me that the letter I was waiting for had been sent in the meantime while they were getting the travel aspect sorted.
So eventually I received the letter. By this point it was June and I received the letter on a day I had an exam! Opening it then wasn’t the best idea, as I found out that some of the details were wrong which really stressed me out!
I didn’t look into it again until I had a gap of about a week in between my exams which was in the middle of June. I added up the costs listed in the letter and the costs listed in my needs assessment report and they didn’t add up. So that made me think that some of the equipment must have been missing, but the letter just showed the total cost and not each item of equipment so there was no way of knowing.
I phoned my assessment centre and they said that if I got in contact with student finance they would be able to give me a breakdown of the equipment. So I got in contact with student finance, who told me that they couldn’t give me a breakdown of the equipment and I would have to get in contact with the equipment supplier for that. I phoned the equipment supplier, but no, they weren’t able to give me a breakdown of the equipment over the phone. I had to email them a copy of the letter, for them to email me a breakdown of the equipment. Although they did actually reply quite quickly.
It turned out that the equipment was actually all there, so there must have just been a slight change in price. Although I did need to ask for the laptop to be taken off and if I could have Mac versions of the software rather than Windows. For some reason in my needs assessment report a Windows laptop still had to be recommended, even though I knew I would be getting a MacBook. I can understand that student finance aren’t going to pay the cost of a MacBook, but I don’t see why they couldn’t have just written that I was going to be getting my own laptop. So this had meant that in the equipment list a Windows laptop with Windows software had been listed, which is why I needed to ask for it to be changed.
You’d think changing something like that would be simple? After all, me getting my own laptop would mean less money for student finance to spend. Oh I forgot, it’s student finance so nothing is simple. So I was told that this had to be referred back to my needs assessor as a new quote needed to be submitted to student finance. A new quote just to take a laptop off and change the software version! Anyway, I was told that they would be in touch.
I didn’t hear back for another 2 weeks, what a surprise! I phoned my assessment centre and they said they would have a look at their emails and ring me back the next day. They actually did ring me back the next day! …but there was no simple answer! The person who I spoke to was the admin for the assessment centre, and she told me that she would have a meeting with my needs assessor. Why on earth was a meeting required just to change two minor things on a list?! I was then told that I needed to contact student finance to tell them what was happening regarding the ‘upgrade’. So hang on a minute. I had originally told my assessment centre that I would be getting a MacBook, but they still wrote down a Windows laptop and it was my responsibility to tell SFE that I would be getting my own laptop and changing the software type when all I would be doing would be saving them money!
So I went ahead and emailed student finance, only to receive an automatic reply which had various timescales for the length of time for a reply. I had no idea what category my email would come under, but the longest length of time was 20 days. 20 days?! I was getting really stressed out, thinking I might have to wait 20 days just for a reply to an email! Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait 20 days. I actually ended up receieving a reply the next day! But judging by the reply I really don’t think there was any point in me sending the email at all. It just said that I would have to pay for the upgrade of the software from Windows versions to Mac versions (which I already knew anyway) and that they would await the revised quote from my needs assessor.
I then didn’t hear anything for another couple of weeks, so I made another phone call to my assessment centre. I was surprised I didn’t know their number off by heart at this point! During the phone call the fire alarm at the assessment centre started going off, so she obviously had to go in a rush. I was called back the next day. Apparently the second quote (this was the one with the Macbook and Mac versions of the software) was being sent.
2 weeks later and I had actually heard something and it was sorted! No only joking, as if that was going to happen! As usual I hadn’t heard anything so I phoned student finance. Apparently they hadn’t received the second quote. Hmm, that sounded familiar. I also asked about the travel aspect of DSA as I had heard nothing about that, it seemed like that had been forgotten about weeks ago. Student finance then told me that the travel aspect was the responsibility of the disability advisor at the university. That was very confusing, no one had ever told me that before! The person on the phone also said to me that it would be easier if the Mac versions of the software had been put down on my needs assessment report in the first place, which is what I had been thinking all along!
So it was then time to phone my assessment centre again. They said that when they typed my name into the system it came up with about 50 results. I wasn’t surprised, with the amount of things that had gone wrong! So they said it could take a while to sort through but they were sure they’d sent the second quote (hmm, that also sounded familiar). So they said that they would get in contact with student finance about it.
I’d had a meeting a couple of weeks before this with one of the disability advisors at my university, just to go through my needs assessment report and talk about the arrangements that the university would put in place. This included my exam arrangements, so that was a relief to know that they had been put in place before I had even started my course. So anyway, I emailed the disability advisor to ask about the travel aspect of DSA. She then spoke to student finance and apparently they had contacted my needs assessor. Any guess for what happened to that quote that SFE never received and my assessment centre were sure they had sent? It had got ‘lost’, yet again! So my needs assessor would resend the extra information to student finance. I’d lost track once again of what was happening, so I asked the disability advisor if the next stage would be where I received a copy of the letter. She confirmed this and said that she would also look out for a copy and to speak to her if there were any queries.
A couple of weeks later and I hadn’t received the letter. I phoned student finance and apparently there had been emails between them and my assessment centre at the beginning of August. Yes, it was August by this time. A month before I started university… So what was the problem this time which had meant more emails going backwards and forwards? The quotes were incorrect, because some contained a lightweight laptop and others didn’t. A lightweight laptop? I thought I’d already made it clear that I was getting my own laptop (well, by this point I already had my laptop)! I pointed out the length of time it had taken and they were apologetic but they didn’t actually do anything to help speed it up!
The next day I received an email from the DSA team which stated that I would need to upgrade the Windows based software to Mac based software and I would need to pay the difference in costs (which as I said before, I already knew). They said that I would shortly receive a letter confirming my new entitlement. What does ‘shortly’ mean when you’re referring to DSA’s timescales? The email also told me that my agreed equipment supplier had been changed because the previously agreed quote was incorrect.
Why had this not been picked up the first time round? If I hadn’t needed to ask for the Windows laptop to be taken off and for the software to be changed to Mac based software then the ‘incorrect quote’ would have gone through. A few days later I had an email to say that the quote was incorrect as it included the wrong type of laptop stand which couldn’t be funded, so it had to be reviewed. First of all, I couldn’t understand why this meant that the equipment supplier had to be changed, surely they could just use the same equipment supplier but change the laptop stand? Secondly, the equipment supplier was a completely different one to any of the three who had originally been listed in my DSA report. This email mentioned nothing to do with a lightweight laptop, so I have no idea where that part had come from during the phone call!
I then got the letter the same day as I received the email. That’s 2 months it had been since I received the first letter which listed the original equipment supplier! So the letter had arrived and I looked at it to find that there was still no information about the travel allowance and there was a quite a big price difference for the equipment compared to the original letter.
So I phoned the assessment centre again, and they told me that they hadn’t received the letter yet but they would get back to me (the letter would say if there was a query). So in the meantime I emailed the equipment supplier (this was the new equipment supplier that had been listed on the most recent letter).
I then had a reply from the equipment supplier to say that they would be unable to supply equipment as they are based in Sheffield which would be too far for them to drive to me. They then said that they didn’t know why they were selected as one of my suppliers. I was so frustrated by this point! How hard was it to find out where a supplier was based before choosing them?! What more was going to go wrong?
I then emailed the disability support advisor at my university a few days later as she had said to let her know if there were any queries. I pointed out what had happened with the equipment supplier and also the fact that I still hadn’t heard back from my assessment centre regarding the travel. She agreed that it was getting really complicated, and suggested calling my assessor to find out what is happening about the equipment. She also said that she would try to follow up the travel part, and that student finance were being very picky about the travel for other students.
I then phoned the assessment centre the next day and they said that a new quote had been submitted for a different equipment supplier. For the travel aspect, apparently student finance had queried it and she had passed the information on to the assessment centre manager (as I mentioned before it was the assessment centre admin I spoke to each time). It was only typical that the manager wasn’t there at that time, she was on annual leave but would be back the following week.
I then phoned student finance the following week to check that the letter had actually been sent, and they confirmed it had been sent. A few days later I received the letter, but the cost for the equipment looked a lot less than the previous letter. So I phoned the equipment supplier, but they needed a copy of the letter in order to be able to give me a breakdown of the equipment. I asked if I emailed them the letter now would they be able to give me a breakdown of the equipment straight away, but they said that the email would take them 24 hours to process (it was also a Friday so that meant not receiving a reply until the Monday!)
On the Friday seeing as I wasn’t going to get any more information about the equipment yet, I thought I would find out what was happening about the travel. I phoned the assessment centre 3 times, and there was no answer. So I phoned student finance, only for them to say that they hadn’t got any information on the travel yet but they were only working on emails from the 28th August at the moment (it was the 4th September at this point). So I then tried phoning the assessment centre again, and got through to them this time. When I asked them about the travel, they then asked me what stage it was at at the moment. How was I supposed to know? She was meant to be the person who had emailed the information about it to the manager! She said that the equipment quotes had been sent now, as if that was a really good thing, forgetting to mention the ridiculous amount of time that it had taken! She told me that the manager had caught up with most of her emails by now, but she would look into the travel and ‘get back to me next week’. How many times had I heard that before?
It got to Monday and I received an email back from the equipment supplier with what I thought would be a breakdown of the equipment. Instead it was an email to say that SFE had made a mistake with the letter (I guessed this was the difference in price I had been confused about) and would need to send out a new letter. I phoned student finance to ask how long this would take, and I was told that it would take up to 5 working days. She also didn’t know what AT meant (it means assistive technology), which isn’t very good for someone who works as part of the DSA team! I had completely forgotten to mention in the phone call how long the whole process had taken, and I was really stressed out as it was getting nearer and nearer to the start of my course. I phoned student finance again to try to explain how long it had taken, but it didn’t seem to make any difference at all. She just said “Aw” (because that helps!) and then went on to explain it would take at least 5 working days for the letter to arrive. She said that there was nothing more I needed to do until the letter arrived, unless I wanted to arrange the other parts of the support such as the one to one study support sessions.
That afternoon I emailed the disability support advisor at my university, updating her on what had happened and explained that I was worried that I wouldn’t get it all sorted in time for starting university. She said she was sorry that it was turning out like this and all I can do is keep monitoring it and let her know if I need any help with anything.
I was so worried about it all considering it was only 2 weeks until I started my university course and I hadn’t even ordered my equipment yet that I put a post up on a dyspraxia group on facebook. A couple of other people explained the amount of difficulty they had with their DSA too, and suggested for me to get my local MP involved.
So the next day I emailed my local MP, attaching a letter where I explained everything that had happened with DSA. I received a reply really quickly (quicker than I ever received a reply from student finance or my assessment centre!) He asked for my reference number and then he contacted student finance straight away, attaching my letter in his email to them.
The same day I contacted my assessment centre about the travel (it was mainly the equipment side of things that I had talked about in a letter to my local MP) and they said that they couldn’t find anything about any problems with it. They asked me if travel was something that had been discussed in my needs assessment, which it definitely was. I was also told that the emails going back and forth between them and student finance had been about the equipment quotes, not the travel. So that meant that the travel had literally been forgotten about for months, when I was made to believe that they were looking into it (it was only a couple of phone calls ago when the assessment centre admin told me that she had emailed the information about the travel to the manager). I was even more annoyed at this point! The assessment centre asked me to get in contact with student finance about the travel, but surely they should have been the ones contacting student finance seeing as they were the ones who had forgotten about it? Student finance said that they were unable to provide me with any specific details about the travel but if I emailed the DSA team they would be able to look into it. It would take 2-3 working days for the DSA team to respond to the email though, and I was running out of time!
I emailed the disability support advisor to update her on this, who then phoned me a couple of days later. She told me that she had received the updated version of the ds2 letter (this was probably the 5th edition of it by now!) and she had phoned student finance to check that it was actually the correct version this time, and they claimed that it was (finally!) Seeing as I hadn’t received this letter yet, she emailed it to me so I could go ahead and get everything sorted as soon as possible. She had also looked into the travel aspect by getting in contact with student finance, and apparently my assessment centre had received an email querying the travel on the 3rd June! So my assessment centre had an email to respond to and didn’t even look into it for 3 months! Apparently the issue was that the taxi supplier had to be approved by DSA and the ones originally listed on my DSA report weren’t. The disability adviser had tried to phone my assessment centre about the travel, but hadn’t been able to get in contact with them.
Now I had received the latest version of the ds2 letter by email, I emailed this to my equipment supplier. The next day I then emailed student finance to ask about the travel. I also emailed my local MP to update him on what was happening, and to let him know that it would hopefully be sorted soon. I was glad that I’d been emailed the most recent version of the letter, as it didn’t arrive by post until a couple of days later.
I’d sent these emails on a Friday, so it was the Monday that I received an email from the equipment supplier…an email to tell me that I would receive an email from their admin team in 1-2 working days. I tried phoning them to let them know that I needed the software to be upgraded to the Mac version, but it was engaged (even after trying multiple times) so I emailed them about this instead. In the meantime I arranged my first study skills appointment for university.
The next day I received an email from the equipment supplier with a list of the equipment and I couldn’t believe it! There was yet another problem, as some of the equipment was missing! And this was the letter that, according to student finance, was correct! So I phoned the equipment supplier and they said that the fact that only one armrest was included on the list (there were meant to be two) was a mistake so they would sort that out but they didn’t have any other equipment on their list, so I would need to contact my assessment centre about that. The other equipment that was missing were the roller trolley backpack and the wrist rest. So I phoned my assessment centre about it who said they would look into it and contact student finance about it. They advised me to just go ahead and order the other equipment in the meantime though.
So I then phoned the equipment supplier to order the equipment, and they weren’t very helpful at all! I could hardly hear what they were saying, and then they suddenly put me on hold without even telling me. The next thing I knew I was passed onto a completely different person without being given a reason at all. It threw me off at first as I was expecting to speak to the same person and when I asked about it she actually said that she didn’t really know why I had been passed over to her either!
She did seem much more helpful though. I told her about the software upgrade and she explained that the ClaroRead version would be slightly different and that Dragon Naturally Speaking software would be more expensive. She said that she would update the quote with the upgraded versions of the software (if she was able to upgrade the quote, then why couldn’t the original equipment supplier have done this in the first place?) and email it to me. Regarding the armrest (where there was only one listed instead of two) she said she would add that to the list and get the extra funding from student finance.
I received the email about the software upgrade really quickly. When I’d be told I’d need to pay the difference I’d imagined it would be about £20-£30 difference – but it actually only turned out to be £2.60!
The next day I phoned the equipment supplier and was finally able to arrange a delivery date for my equipment for the 2nd October. This meant that I wouldn’t receive my equipment until after I had started my course, but there was nothing I could do about that. I then phoned the supplier for the assistive technology training so that I could get that sorted as soon as possible, and they asked me for a copy of the letter.
I then emailed the disability advisor at my university to update her on what was happening, as well as to ask her if she had heard anything back from my assessment centre about the travel. I’d also mentioned the fact that I was a bit worried about what I’d do during my first week of uni, as I wouldn’t have my DSA equipment, in particular the voice recorder. Luckily I was able to borrow a voice recorder from the study support department for my first week of university. With regards to the travel, the disability adviser was eventually able to get in contact with my assessment centre and the admin at the assessment centre said that she would sort the taxi situation with my assessor on the Friday.
A couple of days later I emailed the company for my assistive technology training a copy of the letter. On the Monday I phoned my assessment centre to ask about the travel. She said that she was in the process of phoning taxi companies to try to find an approved supplier, and would make sure that the quotes were sent to student finance that day.
So the next morning I phoned student finance to check that they had been sent the quotes for the taxi companies, but it was before 9:00am and they said something about not being able to access their emails until after 9:00. They also pointed out that they were working from emails from 10 working days ago. That wasn’t what I wanted to hear considering I was starting university in a couple of days time!
I then phoned student finance again, after 9:00 and this time they said that they had a queue of emails from 4 working days ago. I pointed out how long the whole process had taken and the fact that I was starting university in a couple of days time but that made no difference. They did suggest for me to ask the disability adviser at my university to email me the letter when she receives it (as she would receive it by email) rather than me waiting to receive it through the post, so I asked her if that was okay and that was fine.
The next day I then received an email from my local MP, where he had forwarded a reply from student finance explaining the delays. It didn’t actually include all of the details of what had happened – the whole process had been a lot more complicated (as you can tell by this blog post!) than the email had suggested. In addition to this, the email from student finance claimed that the travel arrangements were being reviewed as a matter of priority – as if! I’d been told on the phone that there was a queue of emails from 4 working days ago.
I emailed my local MP about this and received a reply the next day. He said that he would contact student finance again and asked if I would like him to follow up the fact that some of the delay had been caused by the needs assessor, which he’d noticed from the email. I agreed that quite a bit of the delay had been caused by the needs assessment centre, but I didn’t want to make it awkward if I had to contact them again as there were still some aspects of my DSA they were sorting out. I then had an email from my local MP a few days later where he’d forwarded a reply about the travel. Apparently they had been able to approve the travel for the Cambridge journey, but not for Letchworth. This was because the taxi companies listed for Letchworth weren’t on SFE’s list of approved taxi providers and when they were contacted they would not agree to set up an account with SFE.
I’d started university by this point, so for the Letchworth journey between my house and the train station my dad gave me a lift, but there was nothing we could do for the Cambridge journey so I just had to walk. It was so annoying still having parts of my DSA to sort out when I’d started uni, as it was so much more difficult to find the time to make phone calls etc.
As I hadn’t received the software yet, my dad pointed out that I might be able to download trial versions to use in the meantime. I found that there were trial versions available for the majority of the software, so that was useful.
I had my first study support session at university, and I found that really helpful – so at least one part of my DSA had been put in place sucecssfully!
On 2nd October it was a Friday, and I don’t have uni on Fridays, so it gave me the chance to make a few phone calls about DSA. I contacted student finance about the travel, who said that a letter had been sent out on 24th September (I hadn’t received it yet) to say that the taxi journey for Cambridge had been sorted but not for Letchworth. I asked if that meant I’d be able to get the taxi put in place for the journey for Cambridge but apparently I’d have to have both journeys sorted first – very annoying! According to the person I spoke to, the taxi arrangements should be sorted within a week though. I also asked about the additional equipment to see what was happening about that, considering I’d spoken to my assessment centre about it a couple of weeks ago and hadn’t heard anything yet. Apparently student finance were still waiting for information from my needs assessor about it. When you phone student finance you have to give them your customer reference number, which is an 11-digit number, and by this point I wouldn’t really have needed to read it off a bit of paper as I remembered it off by heart by now because of the amount of phone calls I’d had to make!
I then phoned the company for the assistive technology training, as I had emailed them a couple of weeks ago to arrange a date for me to have my assistive technology training but still hadn’t received a reply. They asked me what days would be best, and said that they would contact me later that day to arrange a date and time. They phoned me back and said that the soonest they could do would be th 4th November. I couldn’t believe it, that was a whole month away! I remember saying to my dad that at least everything else should be sorted by then – and I was wrong again! Also, I was told that the assistive technology training would be a 4 hour session! My DSA letter stated that I would have 4 x 2 hour sessions and when I told them this they said that they do it in 2 x 4 hour sessions. I had no idea how I was going to be able to concentrate for 4 hours and take it all in!
The afternoon was when the equipment supplier came to deliver and set up my DSA equipment and software. 8 months after applying for DSA I had finally got my equipment and software! Well, most of it…there just had to be some sort of problem didn’t there? 3 pieces of software couldn’t be installed yet as the licence codes weren’t available. Also, when the person who delivered the equipment had left I got it all out and found that the laptop stand wouldn’t even fit on my desk! The height of it was adjustable, so to have it at the height I would need it at it would take up most of the width of my desk leaving no room for the keyboard!
Even when I used the height adjustment to put the laptop stand at it’s smallest width (which wouldn’t be the right height for me anyway) there was literally just enough room to put the keyboard on the edge of the desk, which would be really awkward to type on and meant I wouldn’t be able to use my wrist rest.
I didn’t have time to phone student finance on the Monday morning, but I started university slightly later on the Tuesday so I phoned them then. I told them about the laptop stand, and they said that I would need to get in contact with the equipment supplier to return it and then I would need to get in contact with my assessment centre to ask for a new recommendation. I couldn’t believe I would have to make another phone call to my assessment centre, the amount of phone calls I had to make was ridiculous!
So I phoned my assessment centre, and before I even said my name they said “It’s Natalie isn’t it?” – just shows the amount of times I had to phone them! They were very apologetic this time. I think as well as me being fed up of having to keep phoning them, they were probably fed up of receiving phone calls from me! They said that they would speak to my needs assessor about the laptop stand and they would contact the equipment supplier.
So a couple of days later I contacted the equipment supplier about the software that hadn’t been able to be installed. They used the online support to install one of the pieces of software, Dragon dictate. They also installed a couple of other pieces of software – one was for the voice recorder and the other was to scan documents for the text-to-speech software. It seemed as though those should have been installed when my equipment was delivered but they weren’t! The licence codes for two other pieces of software, Audio Notetaker and Microsoft Office, still weren’t available. They installed a free version of Office, Libre Office, in the meantime but it wasn’t nearly as good as Microsoft Office!
The day after that I phoned student finance to ask about the travel and the additional equipment, which I’d heard nothing about. What happened to the fact that the travel ‘should be sorted within a week’ (it had been a week now)? They said that they were waiting for more information from my assessment centre, so it was time for me to make yet another phone call to them!
So apparently the admin at my assessment centre had phoned 9 taxi companies so far, none of whom had agreed to set up an account, and had 3 more to phone. Regarding the equipment she said that the wrist rest wasn’t on the list because student finance had got it muddled up with the armrests and that for the laptop stand she would speak to my needs assessor about it on the Monday.
I then found that I had problems with Mindview, one of the pieces of software! For some reason it wasn’t working properly and wouldn’t let me edit the text. This resulted in a lot of emails going backwards and forwards between my dad and the company, who spoke to the developers who tried to come up with solutions but none of them worked! Apparently they had never had that problem come up before! I think the problem may have been because I installed the trial version, which was the business edition, but when the equipment supplier came they entered the lience code for the assistive technology edition into the edition I had already had. My dad also phoned the equipment supplier, but they couldn’t find a solution either. Whilst he was on the phone to them, he asked them whether the licence code for Microsoft Word was available yet but apparently it wasn’t and they had no way of knowing when it would be.
The following week I then had a phone call from someone from student finance. That was a first! It was usually me phoning them! They said that they were trying to get it sorted but in the meantime I could use any taxi company for the journey and as long as I had the receipt, they would reimburse it. They also said if I had used any taxis so far they would be able to reimburse the cost if I had the receipt. If only I’d known that before! He mentioned something about trying to make the rest of the process as hassle free as possible – it was a bit late for that now!
A few days later I phoned student finance to ask about the travel, who said that they were still awaiting more information from my assessment centre. It was about a week ago I had phoned my assessment centre and they said they were in the proess of phoning the taxi companies! Surely they would have sent student finance the information by now?
So I phoned my assessment centre, who said that they had sent all the possible quotes for taxi companies to student finance and that there was someone specific who was dealing with it (that must have been the person who phoned me a few days before). When I asked about the equipment, she said that the assessment centre manager was looking into it. She said something about the fact that she wouldn’t be there but I could leave a voicemail.
So I was planning what to say to the manager in the voicemail, only to find that when I phoned her she was there as she answered! I couldn’t believe how rude she was! Firstly I said my name and explained that I’d been asked to contact her about my equipment for DSA. Seeing as she was supposed to be looking into it I thought she’d know what I was talking about, but she said “So what’s the enquiry then?” I then started to tell her what the additional equipment was. Instead of saying “Sorry I didn’t quite catch that, could you repeat it please?” she just said “Say it again, but slowly one at a time.” It’s not my fault if I’m not 100% clear! We started off by talking about the laptop stand, and even though it didn’t even fit on my desk apparently that was the only one that student finance could supply – how silly is that?! She agreed about that point though and said that there was another student who had an ergonomic assessment where a specific type of laptop stand had been recommended, but student finance would still only supply the other laptop stand. We then talked about the wrist rest, which apparently student finance hadn’t allowed but she didn’t think it was fair to not move the whole process forward due to just one small thing. I then asked about the roller trolley backpack, and she said that student finance hadn’t allowed it. I pointed out that when the first equipment supplier had emailed me the backpack was listed on there, so it must have been approved by student finance. She then didn’t give me the chance to explain it properly and said “No, no, no – that’s the equipment supplier saying they will supply it” She was referring to my needs assessment report when I was talking about a completely different point! Then the manager said “What I do know is I’ve spent more hours speaking to student finance about your case than I have for any other case. They’ve asked me for so many quotes over the summer, about 15 different quotes.” How was that my fault?! Maybe if my assessment centre had got it right in the first place they wouldn’t have had to submit so many quotes! She then mentioned something about the Mac and I told her that that was something I’d pointed out during the needs assessment. She also said that originally my needs assessor had recommended a lightweight laptop stand, but that wasn’t approved by student finance as they only agree to one laptop stand. At the end of the phone call she then asked me if I would like her to phone student finance about the roller trolley backpack. She made it sound like it was her doing a favour, when it was actually something important! Then she told me that she would but it would probably get turned down because I had got my own laptop. I didn’t get that at all, yes the backpack had a laptop compartment inside it, but the reason I was getting it was because it would be easier because of my disability. How did me getting my own laptop make any difference to that?!
I then had a phone call back about 10 minutes later from the manager. As soon as I answered the phone she pointed out the fact that she had been on the phone to student finance ‘the whole time since our phone call’ as if she really wanted to emphasise how much work she was doing. She said that it was confirmed that a different laptop stand and a wrist rest weren’t allowed, and she said that for the backpack there were so many emails that it would have to escalate to a higher person, which would take a day or 2. She then said “Just thought I’d phoned you so you know I’m not sitting here twiddling my thumbs…which I’m not. So I’ll get back to you.” How rude! The assessment centre were the ones who had made so many mistakes, so why did she seem to be blaming it all on me?! She made it sound as if she was doing so much, when she hadn’t even phoned or emailed me once over the summer to update me on anything.
As I wasn’t able to get a different laptop stand through DSA, I bought one myself which also has a stand for an additional monitor:
The following week I then had a phone call from the same person from student finance who had contacted me before about the travel. The taxi had finally been sorted (well, sort of) for Letchworth. They weren’t able to set up an account so I would need to get the receipt from the taxi driver each time and send them to student finance to be reimbursed. For Cambridge an account had been set up and I would receive details from the taxi company soon. I mentioned that I still hadn’t received the letter he had sent at the end of September (it was now the end of October) and he said that he would send out an updated version. For the backpack, he said that I could buy one up to the price of £90 and if I send him the receipt it would be reimbursed.
The following week I then had an email from the taxi company in Cambridge, so after being at university for just over a month I was finally able to get the taxi arranged. The person from the taxi company was really polite in his email and said to let him know if I had any questions – makes a change from some of the other people I had spoken to in the DSA process!
The next day I had my assistive technology training. Luckily he managed to sort the problem I’d been having with the Mindview software! I had to set up another account on my laptop, and it worked on that account. This was the one where I was worried about the session being 4 hours long, but he only ended up being here for 2 hours – yet I still had to sign for 4 hours! When I had a meeting with my disability adviser at university she was saying how bad it was that I’d had to sign for 4 hours, and she suggested not to do it again as I might need those other 2 hours of training at a later date. She also mentioned that lots of other students had issues with their travel for DSA too.
It was now the end of November and I still hadn’t received the latest version of the letter (it had been sent out for the second time a month ago!) I emailed the person from student finance to check that they’d got the right address. I’d got receipts piling up from my taxi journeys but hadn’t got them reimbursed yet as I hadn’t received the letter so wasn’t sure how to go about it. He said that he would reissue the letter, and said that if I sent him the taxi receipts they could be reimbursed.
So I sent him the taxi receipts, along with the receipt for the roller trolley backpack I had ordered. I ended up using the roller trolley backpack for a bit and found it useful, except when there were steps! So I ended up getting a normal rucksack instead! I felt bad for not using the roller trolley backpack as it had been funded through DSA, but it was just so awkward to carry up and down steps – and the rucksack straps weren’t quick to get out either!
There was still one piece of software that I hadn’t received yet, Microsoft Office. So I emailed the equipment supplier as it was the end of November and I still hadn’t heard anything about it, and I never got a reply!
At the beginning of December I had an email about the reimbursement for the backpack and the taxi. The backpack was reimbursed but the travel wasn’t reimbursed because apparently I hadn’t used the nominated taxi provider listed on my entitlement letter (I’d been told that I could use any taxi provider as long as I had the receipt). I also still hadn’t received the entitlement letter which had been sent out for the 3rd time a couple of weeks ago!
My Dad got in contact with the person from student finance about the taxi reimbursement, and he said he couldn’t figure out why it hadn’t been reimbursed but he would look into it that same day and email me about it. My dad also pointed out that I still hadn’t received the letter, so the person said he would send it again. I didn’t receive an email, so I emailed him a few days later and the next day he replied with the details of the reimbursement. I’d spend £72 on taxis and only £32.50 of it had been reimbursed! It was because the receipts didn’t provide all the details , but it wasn’t my fault if the taxi driver didn’t fill out the receipts properly. A couple of times the taxi driver gave me a blank receipt and told me to fill it in myself!
At the end of December I then randomly had an email from a company about insurance for my DSA equipment. It was a genuine email, it was just sent a bit late!
I’d bought some paper and ink cartidges and they were reimbursed with no problems – probably one of the only things that went successfully in the whole process!
A couple of weeks ago, me and my dad went to the offices for the two main taxi companies in Letchworth, which were both in the same building, to see if an account could be set up. The first company said no, but the second company were willing to set one up with me where I pay them weekly and then get the money reimbursed from student finance after sending them the receipt. They said that I would have the same driver most of the time and they would make sure that all of the details on the receipt were filled out. So I emailed the person from student finance to check that was okay, and he phoned me a couple of days later and said that will be fine (I’m really glad about that as it will be so much easier!). He mentioned the fact that the company originally didn’t want to set up an account with student finance, and that might have been because of the amount of time it would take for them to receive the payment from student finance – I’m not surprised!
When I was on the phone I mentioned that I still hadn’t received the letter, so he said that he would send it to me in an email even though they don’t normally do that (I’d have thought it would be much easier) seeing as he’d tried to send it multiple times and I hadn’t receive it. So nearly 4 months after the letter had originally been sent, I finally received a copy of it by email.
I also emailed the equipment supplier about Microsoft Office as I still hadn’t heard anything about it. They sent me some instructions of how to download it online through logging into my university email. I thought it wasn’t going to work as my university had send out an email a while ago saying not to download the free version of Microsoft Office being advertised for students through the email because it would either be a 30 day trial or a read only version. I thought that these problems would happen with the version I had been instructed to download, but it works fine! I asked about the version that I was originally going to be getting through DSA, but he said that Microsoft Office have not released that version for Mac.
I then emailed the supplier for the assistive technology training. I hadn’t had my other sessions before because I hadn’t got Microsoft Word yet, which was needed to use some of my assistive software. I’ve now arranged a date with them for my assistive technology training session, which will be 2 hours this time as it should be. I’ve also set up the account with the taxi company for the Letchworth journey. So everything for my DSA is now sorted, AT LAST!!!
What I’ve received through DSA is brilliant, it’s so helpful and I really would struggle without it. But the whole process has been an absolute nightmare, I just can’t believe the amount of things that have gone wrong! It has taken almost a year to sort everything and altogether I have had to make nearly 50 phone calls about it!!! This blog post has probably been very complicated and confusing to read (I got confused writing it at times!), but there is no clear way to explain the DSA process as none of it has been straightforward!
For anyone who is applying for DSA, here’s a few links which you might find helpful:
To anyone who is applying for DSA… APPLY AS EARLY AS YOU CAN! Make sure you keep making phone calls to follow things up, as you can tell SFE and my assessment centre never liked to keep me informed of anything that was going on. Good luck, and I hope the whole process goes a lot better than mine did!!!