Reasonable adjustments in college and university education

Colleges and universities have a legal duty to try to remove the barriers you face in education because of disability. This is called ‘making reasonable adjustments’. These adjustments help make sure you get the same access to education as anyone else.

Apprenticeships and traineeships must also make reasonable adjustments for you.

Guide to apprenticeship support (GOV.UK)

Anyone can ask for adjustments if they need them. But to have legal rights to reasonable adjustments, you will need to be defined as ‘disabled’ under the Equality Act 2010. This usually means how your condition affects you, not what your condition is.

Showing you're disabled under the Equality Act (Citizens Advice)

Definition of disability under the Equality Act 2010 (GOV.UK)

Types of reasonable adjustments

Adjustments you might get could be things like:

  • getting notes and lectures in advance
  • alternative formats of lectures or course material, such as recordings of lectures or Word documents instead of PDFs, coloured overlays
  • equipment or aids, such as BSL interpreters, scribes or specialist computer equipment
  • one-to-one support
  • accessible rooms and venues, such as having quiet spaces
  • accessible student accommodation or specific housing arrangements

Adjustments for disabled students (Disability Rights UK)

What is reasonable

There is no set definition of what is ‘reasonable’ in the Equality Act. It depends on:

  • what you need and the difference it will make
  • cost
  • practicality and effectiveness
  • disruption and health and safety

For example, it might be reasonable to…

  • give a student software that helps them type or dictate lectures and coursework

It might not be reasonable to...

  • change exam criteria that might advantage you or disadvantage other students
  • make an adjustment that meets your needs but affects other people’s access needs or everyone’s health and safety. For example, some raised floor markings that help people with visual impairments could be a trip hazard for others.

If you cannot agree on reasonable adjustments informally with the college or university, only a court can decide what is ‘reasonable’ under the Equality Act.

Reasonable adjustments and exams

Exams often test what you know. How you are able to do this should be adjustable, such as:

  • doing the exam in a smaller room without other students
  • having comfort breaks or snacks
  • dictating to a notetaker or using a computer
  • how long it takes you
  • setting the exam timetable to meet your needs, such as if your condition is better in the morning or afternoon

Making adjustments for exams that test how you do something can be harder. Some adjustments might not be considered reasonable.

For example, if you must show you can work to a strict time limit, getting extra time will not test your ability to do this.

But alternative adjustments might help you do the exam within the time limit instead, like using a computer. If the adjustment gives you an advantage, this would also not be considered reasonable.

For example:

If you miss an exam because of a fluctuating condition, running an extra exam at a later date might give you an advantage that other students do not have, like more time to study.

Talk to your education provider about adjustments that might help you go to scheduled exams, such as having a gap of a couple of days between exams or having morning exams only.

Working with your college or university

If you can, try to work with your college or university to find adjustments that both:

  • meet your needs
  • would be considered ‘reasonable’

If something is not considered ‘reasonable’, your college or university should try to find alternatives for you.

You could also go to disability charities, local support groups or online communities and forums for help finding alternative adjustments to suggest to your college or university.

Asking for reasonable adjustments

Find out who supports disabled students at your college or university. Ask:

  • student support or learning support services, sometimes called student disability services
  • your course leader or your tutor

They should tell you who to contact. The job title can vary:

  • disability adviser or officer
  • disability co-ordinator
  • learning support adviser (further education)

Disability advisers will help you get the reasonable adjustments you need. They can also advocate (speak for you).

Warning Ask for adjustments as soon as you can

Some adjustments can take time to arrange, especially for exams.

Ask your tutor or adviser for adjustments as soon as you can, such as at the start of the academic year or a new term. If you know what you need, you can ask for adjustments before you start your course.

Always check with your tutor, college or university that you have any exam adjustments you need before exam day.

Speaking to your disability adviser

Arrange an informal chat with your disability adviser to talk about:

  • the difficulties you're facing because of disability
  • what you want help with and the adjustments you think will help (if you know)
  • reasonable adjustments they can offer

If you have not had a needs assessment yet, ask your adviser for one. A needs assessment helps you find out what equipment, support and adjustments you might need. You will then get a report with recommendations.

If you’re at university or doing a higher education course, your adviser may ask you to apply for Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSAs) to get an assessment and pay for the adjustments. If you are already getting DSAs, your adviser can arrange an assessment.

Colleges and training providers have funding for reasonable adjustments and cannot charge students for support.

Find more information from “4. How is disability-related support funded?” on Funding further education for disabled students (Disability Rights UK).

Get everything in writing

After your meeting, confirm:

  • what you talked about
  • what happens next, such as getting a needs assessment
  • any adjustments you agreed in the meeting

Try to do this in writing, such as an email. This can help you keep a record of things like:

  • what you asked for
  • why you asked for it
  • when you asked for it
  • who you asked and how many requests you made
  • your education provider’s reply and reasons for accepting or refusing

Having a written record may also help if you do not get your adjustments.

If you do not get your adjustments

Education providers should consider all disabled students’ requests for adjustments.

Your college or university should also explain why they cannot provide an adjustment. If they do not, ask for the reason.

Understanding their decision can help you:

  • work with them to find other ways to make the adjustments you need
  • appeal the decision to refuse your request
  • work out if it’s discrimination

It may be discrimination if:

  • you do not get the recommended adjustments from your needs assessment report
  • your education provider does not make the adjustments you agreed with them

Talk or write to your disability adviser if this happens. Remind them they have a legal duty to make any agreed reasonable adjustments.

What equality law means for you in further or higher education (PDF, Equality and Human Rights Commission)

Discrimination in college and university education

If education provider still does not give you what you need, you can complain.

Last reviewed by Scope on: 13/12/2019

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