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A newly-launched report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Assistive Technology has revealed the barriers that disabled students face when it comes to purchasing the higher-powered laptops needed to run essential assistive software.

The report – ‘Disabled Students’ Allowances: giving students the technology they need to succeed’ – explores a change to the Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSA) policy in 2015, which means that students must now pay a £200 contribution towards purchasing the higher-powered laptops needed to run advanced assistive software.

The charge was introduced with the aims of wider student fairness and value for money. It was argued that since most students use a laptop, a £200 contribution (equivalent to the price of a low-powered laptop) should be deemed a mainstream cost of university study.

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However, the Group found that this £200 requirement led to, roughly, a 20 percent drop in student take-up of essential assistive technology. It added that this charge has “undermined” the Government’s aims of better student outcomes and narrowing the disability gap as some students cannot afford £200 up-front for the new hardware.

The DSA is the primary means by which students access assistive technology at university. Students undergo a needs assessment which recommends a bespoke package of technology and human support, funded by the Allowance.

The report argues that most disabled students already own a laptop when they apply for the DSA and paying an additional £200 for a more powerful laptop to run the essential assistive software means that they have to pay for a laptop twice.

In addition to the £200 equipment charge, the report also outlines evidence of other financial barriers that students face when accessing the DSA. These include payments for evidence of eligibility and computer upgrades on top of the £200 charge.

In response to this DSA policy change, the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Assistive Technology is calling for the Government to remove the £200 up-front cost as a matter of urgency, as it states the policy reform has had a negative effect on students.

It also recommends that the Department for Education remove disabled students’ up-front costs associated with accessing assistive technology through the DSA, by removing the charge or adding it to the student loan.

The Group suggests that the Department for Education open a public consultation on all financial barriers faced by disabled students associated with the DSA.

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