Recognising that students may face challenges related to disabilities, mental health, or long-term health conditions, universities have a responsibility to make adjustments to allow them to thrive

What are reasonable adjustments?

Reasonable adjustments are changes made by your institution to eliminate or reduce obstacles faced by students with disabilities. Under the Equality Act 2010 (UK), organisations have a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments to ensure that students with disabilities are not at a disadvantage.

There is no set definition of what is 'reasonable' in the Equality Act. The determination of reasonableness depends on what you need and the difference it will make, the cost and the practicality of making the adjustments.

'We can support students who have conditions like dyslexia, Autistic Spectrum Condition, Crohn's Disease, Epilepsy, anxiety, schizophrenia or who are D/deaf, but that's not an exhaustive list,' explains Josie Lovett, disability adviser at The University of Warwick. 

These adjustments do not give any unfair advantage, but instead, they create an inclusive environment that levels the playing field and supports your learning journey.

What are examples of reasonable adjustments?

Every student has unique needs, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to reasonable adjustments. Changes can include:

  • course materials in alternative formats
  • providing extra breaks during exams
  • allowing the use of assistive technologies like computers, scribes, screen readers, magnification software, and hearing loops.
  • flexible assessment methods or extended time for exams
  • access to note-takers, tutors, or counsellors
  • markers may be advised not to penalise errors in spelling, punctuation, untidy handwriting or clumsiness of English expression
  • accessible classrooms, buildings, and housing, specialised equipment or flexible living arrangements.

The adjustments will vary depending on the impairment of the student. For example, a student with dyslexia may need access to text-to-speech software and printed materials in fonts with clear layouts and spacing. On the other hand, an autistic student may benefit from receiving course materials in advance and creating a sensory-friendly learning environment.

If you feel a particular adjustment would be helpful, be sure to discuss your needs openly and collaboratively with the disability service staff to find adjustments that work best for you and your studies.

How do I access adjustments?

Most universities and colleges have dedicated departments for disability services, which are responsible for assessing individual needs and implementing reasonable adjustments. These departments can guide you on who to contact for assistance. The job title of the person you should speak to may vary but could include:

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

'When a student has an appointment, we generally agree the adjustments together and then write up the support plan, which could take a couple of hours or days. Generally, it's not a long process and reasonable adjustments can be put in place quickly,' Josie explains.

If you require any adjustments due to a disability or health condition, you can request them. However, to get legal rights to reasonable adjustments, you must be categorised as 'disabled' under the Equality Act 2010. This classification is usually based on how your condition affects you.

You are disabled under the Equality Act if:

  • you have a 'physical or mental impairment'
  • the impairment 'has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on your ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities'.

'We need evidence that shows the medical condition or disability has lasted more than 12 months or is likely to and has an impact on a day-to-day basis, but we recognise that conditions don't always fit into neat boxes,' says Josie.

You will need to provide documents such as medical reports or assessments from qualified professionals to prove your disability or health condition. It's important to note that it is unlawful for a college or university to ask you to pay for reasonable adjustments, but you may have to meet the costs of any medical reports or letters.

Visit GOV.UK - adjustments planner to identify any extra support or arrangements you might need.

What do I need to say to the disability adviser?

A starting point is to clearly explain the day-to-day difficulties your disability or condition creates. Be specific about what tasks or aspects of your work environment pose the most significant challenges.

Josie explains 'in a meeting we'll ask what support you've had in the past and if it was helpful. We'll look at the evidence before we meet, and students don't have to give us lots of personal information during the appointment about the difficulties they face,' explains Josie.

'It's a supportive discussion where we welcome questions and agree on adjustments that will be the most helpful and academically viable. Reasonable adjustments are always put in place in agreement with the student, so they have a voice in the support they're offered,' she adds.

It is important to be precise when discussing how you're affected. Instead of saying 'my condition makes concentrating hard,' you could say 'my condition means that background noise or distractions can easily derail my train of thought, making it difficult to complete tasks on time.'

The disability officer is there to assist, but you are your own best spokesperson. Be clear and confident about your needs.

Why should I apply for reasonable adjustments?

By adopting a proactive approach in requesting adjustments, your organisation can stay ahead of potential problems and ensure that necessary adjustments are in place early on. This not only prevents delays that could worsen issues but also helps to maintain progress.

For example, a student with ADHD who lacks access to a quiet study space at the beginning of the term may struggle and fall behind without adjustments. Ongoing conditions can also have unpredictable flare-ups that can affect your ability to participate in assessments or coursework. By arranging for necessary adjustments early on, you can ensure that your progress is not hindered and that you have a fair chance to succeed.

Josie explains 'the sooner students contact us the better, so adjustments like exam arrangements can be put in place. Often there are deadlines, so it's important to know that the support is in place, meaning they won't have to panic.'

What should I do if my adjustments are refused?

'It's very rare we reject reasonable adjustments, but we may offer an alternative instead. For example, instead of additional time for exams, we'll offer rest breaks. If a student is unhappy in any way, we'll discuss our decision and offer the opportunity to meet again to see if there have been any changes or additional evidence, which could support the student's request. Students can also talk with the disability coordinator or head of disability for further advice and support,' explains Josie.

If you believe that you are covered by the Equality Act, but your requested adjustments have been refused, you have the right to inquire about the reasoning behind the decision. Remember that adjustments are your legal entitlement.

If you find yourself in a disagreement with your institution regarding your requested adjustments, you should be prepared to negotiate. To strengthen your case, you can provide the following information:

  • reasons why the proposed adjustments won't pose issues
  • strategies to prevent any concerns about the proposed changes
  • options for alternative adjustments.

If the negotiation fails, you should research your institution's complaint protocol. It's important to aim to resolve your complaint with your university before taking it further.

If the complaint remains unresolved, the next step may include:

Find out more

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