DSA and Technology

As a blind or partially sighted student, having access to the right technology at university can be a game-changer, opening doors to areas of study and empowering you to thrive in your education. 

Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) provides funding for the purchase of technology for use in your studies at university. This guide will outline the technology that may be available to you via DSA and explains how to approach your DSA Needs Assessment and work with your DSA Needs Assessor to get the right tech for you. 

What assistive tech could I receive via DSA? 

There is a wide range of technology that could be available to you via DSA. To get you started, here is an overview of some of the most common types of tech that blind and partially sighted students can receive via DSA.

Screen readers 

A screen reader is a piece of software which allows you to interact with a computer/device without needing to see the screen. Using the keyboard, you can move around the screen while the screen reader reads out the content you are selecting. Screen readers are really useful for students with no or low vision and can help reduce eyestrain. Although there are free screen readers available, many students benefit from receiving more comprehensive screen readers via DSA, such as JAWS.

Magnification software 

Magnification software enables students with some remaining vision to enlarge content on a screen, by zooming in and out, as well as offering other features such as changing colour contrast and cursors to best suit your needs. As with screen readers, free magnification software is available, such as Windows Magnifier, but DSA can fund more comprehensive options, such as ZoomText. 

Other specialist software  

There are many other types of assistive software to explore which might be useful during your studies. These include software which can turn your speech into text, convert printed material to accessible formats, support your note-taking, make maths notation more accessible, help you manage your time and workload and much more.  

Be sure to ask your Needs Assessor about what specialist software might be available that could support you with your studies. Check out our accessible technology for students webinar for more inspiration and ideas.

Laptops, computers and monitors 

If you need specialist software such as a screen reader or magnification software to access your studies, then DSA can provide you with a laptop or desktop that will be powerful enough to run these.  

You can also ask for a device that has specific features that you need to help you with your vision, such as a large or bright screen. You could also request a large monitor if that is something you think you need, and an adjustable monitor arm or laptop stand to position your screen where you can see it best. Keyboards with high colour contrast and bigger keys are also available via DSA as are Bluetooth mice and trackpads. 

There are also ways you can make your computer more accessible once you receive it. Find out more in our Make Your Computer Accessible for Education guide, which will walk you through the built-in accessibility features available on both Windows and Mac machines.

Braille technology 

For students who use braille, there is a range of braille tech and accessories that you can request via DSA. These include things like electronic Braille displays, Braille notetakers and Braille embossers.

Electronic magnifiers 

Electronic magnifiers are physical tools which can help you to read text or look at images/items which are too small or too far away, such as a textbook/handout or   a whiteboard/projector in a classroom. There are a wide range of magnifiers, both handheld and tabletop. Some can also adjust colours and contrasts or convert text to speech.

Other tech accessories 

There are also other types of technology available via DSA, which may help you with your studies as a blind or partially sighted student. These include accessories such as bone conduction headphones, which help with using a screen reader in class and digital voice recorders for verbal notetaking. You could also request a printer and ink if you find it easier to use physical formats.

Top tip – take a deeper dive into the tech available 

The tech we have covered on this page is only scratching the surface of what is available, so it’s a great idea to explore your options, do your research and don’t be afraid to ask for a piece of tech you feel will help you with your studies. Our Useful Accessible Accessories for Education guide covers the above tech and other options in more detail, so check it out!

What if I’m not sure what kind of technology will suit me best? 

Some students will attend their Needs Assessment knowing exactly what technology they’d like to request, but it’s also very normal to feel unsure about what technology will suit you best. Your needs assessor will talk you through the various options, and if you opt for an in-person assessment you may have the opportunity to test out some of the technology to help you decide.

Top tip – do your research 

Prior to your DSA needs assessment, it’s a good idea to have a think about what types of technology you currently use and what tech you might need on your course. Use the information in this guide and our Useful Accessible Accessories for Education page for some inspiration and ideas for where to start. Have a look on the web for providers/suppliers of assistive technology and browse the products they have, see which ones might meet your needs and make a note of them. It’s worth thinking about the reasons/justifications for why you would need the software/equipment, so you can explain this to your DSA needs assessor during your assessment. Even just having an idea of the types of technology you might need will help. Find out more about how to prepare for your needs assessment here.

Do I have to pay for any technology I receive via DSA? 

As DSA is a non-means tested grant, you will not have to pay for either the assessment, or the technology you are awarded. However, if you are a student from England, you will be expected to make a contribution of £200 towards the cost of a laptop or PC if one is included in your award. If you are unable to meet this cost, you should speak with your university as they may have funding available to help with this. It is also worth checking whether there are any charitable grants you could apply for on our Additional Funding Options for Your Studies page.

Will I get training to learn how to use the technology I receive? 

Yes, as part of your DSA package, your assessor can include training sessions for any software or specialist equipment you will receive. This training will take place either online or in-person with an Assistive Technology Trainer. You can request additional training sessions if you feel you need them.

How will I be supplied with the technology I’ve been awarded? 

Once the Student Loans Company has looked at the report your assessor has provided following your Needs Assessment, they will send you a letter outlining what technology and other support you have been awarded. For students in England, Either Contact Associates or StudyTech will be responsible for providing your equipment and training, depending on which region of the country you are in. They will arrange for your technology to be sent to your address and give you information about how you will receive your training.

Super-charge your studies with tech! 

We have a dedicated area on our website which is all about how you can use technology to thrive in your education. From harnessing the built-in accessibility features on your computer/mobile devices, learning to touch type, game-changing apps for accessing printed text to how to use AI to boost your learning, we’ve got something impactful for you. 

Check out our Technology in Education page to find out more!

Need support? 

If you would like further information, advice or guidance about DSA, or anything else relating to studying as a blind or partially sighted student, please contact our Student Support Service.

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