Positive Policies

2023 Policy Deep Dive: Ensuring students have sufficient reasonable adjustment

By 2033 our goal is for 75% of disabled students to have the support they need. Each year we will be selecting an area for a deep dive, which gives universities practical and actionable steps on how to meet the 2033 goals, based on what the data from the Annual Disabled Student Survey shows to have an impact. 

This year we are taking a look at which policies are likely to lead students to have “Sufficient Adjustments”, our 4th Principle for The Disabled Student Experience. In order for students to have sufficient reasonable adjustments, based on our data, we recommend that universities do the following:

  1. Give students enough information about different adjustment

Students who felt they had received sufficient information about different possible adjustments that could help them were 4.3 times more likely to have the support they needed.

  1. Approve the requested adjustments.

Students who had not had a requested adjustment rejected were 3.5 times more likely to have the support they needed.

  1. Implement the approved adjustments

Students who had all agreed adjustments actually put in place were 2.7 times more likely to have the support they needed. 

Of students who had the three factors above, 85% reported having enough support, surpassing the 2033 goal of 75%. Actioning all three recommendations can therefore significantly increase the percentage of students who receive the support they need. Below we go into greater detail on each of these factors.

Steps to sufficient adjustments

1. Disabled students need to be informed of possible support

Currently 45% of declared disabled students state that they have been given enough relevant information about different possible adjustments that could help them. This figure is especially low (37%) among second generation British students, students whose parents migrated to the UK. By 2033 our goal is for this figure to be 75%.

Being given enough information about adjustments is correlated with other measures of being informed such as knowing your rights, having been told enough about the course to be able to plan your access needs and finding it easy to understand where one should turn for disability support at the university.

We found that the biggest predictors of students feeling that they had enough information about adjustments was their disability advisor. Students who felt their disability advisor was helpful and knowledgeable were 4.6 times more likely to have been sufficiently informed.. However, resourcing of disability services was also important. In other words, whether disability services had adequate staff, funding and training to effectively support students. Students who felt that disability staff had enough resources to do their job were 2.4 times more likely to be sufficiently informed. This indicates that the importance of Disability Services for dissemination of information goes beyond the individual meetings between student and advisor, for instance through measures such as displaying information about adjustments on the university website, making it accessible to students even before declaring a disability.

Students who both felt that their disability advisor was knowledgeable, and that disability staff at their university had enough resources, had an 89% likelihood of having been provided with enough information about different adjustments.

To increase students’ knowledge about disability adjustments, we recommend that universities:

  • Provide Disability Services with enough resources to disseminate information about disabled students’ rights and the support they can get. Information can be communicated through the application process, student-directed campaigns, the university website and information sheets provided when students first reach out to Disability Services.
  • Ensure disability advisors have the time and knowledge to be able to appropriately inform students who reach out for support.

2. Disabled students need to have the support they request approved 

Currently 45% of students who declare a disability report that their university approved all the adjustments they could to make their experience as equal as possible to the experience of a non-disabled student. This figure is lower among non-EU international students (34%). 

Of students who had had an adjustment rejected, 54% had been offered a harmful or inadequate adjustment as the only option, possibly indicating that their university takes a tickbox approach to support with students being offered standardised solutions, regardless of their individual needs. Staff gave a variety of reasons for the rejection: 33% percent of students who had support rejected were told the adjustment would not be fair to other students, 25% were told they did not really need the adjustment, 22% were told they should interrupt their studies instead of asking for adjustments and 20% were told they did not have the right evidence for the adjustment.

We would like to see the percentage of disabled students that have all requested support approved to increase to 75% by 2033. Toward this end let us look at which policies are associated with students having their support approved. 

The biggest predictor of having had all requested support approved was whether students had somewhere to turn to appeal a decision regarding accessibility. Students who felt that they did were 2.3 times less likely to have had a requested adjustment rejected. This could be someone within their department, someone within disability services or even a complaint process they could go through. 

Other important factors included whether the student estimated that disability staff had enough resources and which staff attitudes they had encountered. Students who had encountered a staff member who saw accessibility as a responsibility rather than a favour were 1.5 times more likely to have had all their support agreed and students who had encountered the attitude that access needs can change were 1.7 times more likely to have had all their support agreed.

According to our data, if students encounter these three factors: well-resourced disability staff, positive staff attitudes and somewhere to turn to appeal, they have an 86% likelihood of having all their support approved. 

To increase the number of students who have the support they need approved, we recommend that universities:

  • Resource Disability Services to provide support tailored to the individual students, rather than tick box adjustments.
  • Train disability staff in disability law to ensure that they see accessibility as a responsibility.
  • Have a policy of taking a flexible approach to support and following up with students after support has been agreed to enquire about whether their support needs have changed.
  • Ensure that Disability Services have a clearly signposted process of appeal in place, so that students who have an adjustment rejected have somewhere to turn. 
  • Create a process whereby each student who has a requested adjustment rejected is given a reason in writing.

3. Disabled students need to have the approved support implemented

Currently 36% of students who have had any support approved by their university have all that support put in place. This figure is particularly low among students from a low socioeconomic background (29%). 70% of students state that they go without agreed adjustments because it takes too long to follow up and ensure it is implemented.

The biggest predictors of having support put in place relate to internal communication, staff training and clear structures of responsibility:

  • Students who reported that everyone who needed to be informed about their adjustment has been quickly informed they were 4.6 times more likely to have the support implemented
  • Students who reported that staff members who did not have disability as their primary job were knowledgeable about how to implement adjustments were 3 times more likely to have the support implemented
  • Students who felt that staff members prioritised their wellbeing were 3.4 times more likely to have the support implemented
  • Students who did not feel that they were being pushed from person to person were 2.9 times more likely to have their support implemented.

Students for whom all of the factors above were true, had an 82% chance of having all agreed support put in place. 40% of students have had someone check up on whether the agreed adjustments have put in place, increasing their likelihood of having all support implemented by 59%.

To increase the number of students who have their agreed support implemented, we recommend that universities:

  • Have a clear communication system between Disability Services and implementing staff. Many universities use an online list of a student’s adjustments but the correct staff members are not always notified of the need to check this list or how to do so.
  • Train academic and administrative staff outside of Disability Services in the implementation of reasonable adjustments, how to access students’ lists of adjustments and who to contact if issues arise.
  • Ensure that academic departments have structures defining who is responsible for which access needs to ensure that students are not pushed from person to person.
  • Conduct training and campaigns to improve decentralised staff attitudes toward wellbeing generally and disability specifically.
  • Ensure that academic staff have enough time and support for their own work that they are able to appropriately support students. 
  • Have a policy of Disability Services following up with students and staff after support has been agreed to enquire about whether their support has been implemented.