Get ready for uni Get ready for uni

Support services and disability access

Investigating disability support services at uni involves having insight into the types of support you'll need. Once you have an idea of the support you want and need, it's a matter of getting advice from the right uni staff and gaining a realistic understanding of services that will and will not be available to you at each uni.

Thinking about your disability and support needs

Imagine what support, equipment and/or access features you will need at uni. To do this, note down a brainstorm of ideas about:

  • your disability and how it affects your study and ability to participate in student life
  • the support you have used at school and the things that have been the most useful and unhelpful for you and
  • your thoughts about the differences between school and uni and the new types of support you may need at uni.

How will my disability effect me at Uni?

Getting to know your disability, how it affects your studies already and the likely affects on your future uni life is an important step in getting ready for uni. Think about which support, equipment or access features are essential to you (that is, you would be unable to attend uni without this support, equipment or access feature) and those which you could work around or do without. This will help you prioritise when making the practical arrangements with the uni about your disability support plan.

Below are some prompt questions to help you get a better understanding of your likely disability needs at uni. This will help you get in the know about the types of student support services and other adjustments that could be helpful for you at uni. Remember you don't need to know all the answers yet. You can get advice from others, especially uni staff, school teachers, disability professionals and perhaps your family and/or friends. (See below for further information about Disability Liaison Officers (DLOs) and suggested questions for DLO's).

The following information has been adapted from the 'Worksheet for understanding your disability or medical condition at uni'  by the Tasmanian Regional Disability Liaison Officer's publication 'Leaps and Bounds' (2010) and webpage 'Gateways'.

Question 1

Does your disability or medical condition have a name?

Question 2

Is your disability or medical condition:

  • not noticeable?
  • noticeable?
  • keeps coming back (recurs)?
  • temporary?
  • permanent?
  • likely to get worse?
  • terminal?
  • one that attacks every so often (episodic)?

Question 3

How does your disability or medical condition impact on your ability to study? (e.g. makes you tired, means you can't sit at a desk for a long time)

Question 4

How does your medicine prescribed for your disability or medical condition affect your study (makes you tired, hard to concentrate, disturbs your sleeping patterns, makes you feel a bit 'out of it', etc)?

Question 5

Will your disability or medical condition affect the way you can:

  • Get around campus?
  • Read printed material, e.g. lecture and course notes?
  • Participate in field trips?
  • Do laboratory work?
  • Participate in practicum's, work experience or clinical placements?
  • Use the library?
  • Sit exams?
  • Complete other course assessments?
  • Listen and/or hear lectures?
  • Take notes or write essays?
  • Manage course workload?
  • Participate in group work?
  • Use machinery or chemicals?
  • Communicate with others?
  • And/or other ways?

Question 6

Leaps and Bounds' (2010) also suggests additional things to consider according to the type of disability you have.

What changes do you think could help to compensate for the affects of your disability on your studies? (for example timetable classes in accessible rooms only, exams to include more breaks, help to take notes in lectures, software to help you read lecture and course notes, access to student counselling to help stress management, lectures recorded in audio form, extra help in the library, disability parking on campus to help you get to class, etc)

Disability Liaison Officers (DLOs)

All unis have staff who are especially there to help students with disability. These uni staff are known by a few different titles like Disability Advisers, Disability Consultants, Disability Coordinators, Equity Officers or Case Managers. In 'Get Ready for Uni' we call them 'Disability Liaison Officers' or DLOs.

The DLO is one of the most important contacts you can make at any of the unis you are considering before you make your uni decisions and definitely before you start your classes!

What can you ask DLOs about?

  • DLOs are uni staff dedicated to arranging practical assistance that students with disability need to complete their uni course.
  • DLOs work with students with disability all day everyday and know a lot about life at uni with a disability.
  • The information you tell a DLO is confidential unless you give them permission to pass on the information to other uni staff or other relevant people.

What can a DLO do for me?

  • A DLO is the main person who can tell you about the services and facilities helpful to students with disability at that uni. They can also put you in touch with other staff at the uni who can help answer your questions about courses and life at uni.
  • A DLO can help you work out what practical arrangements you may need and what is available at the uni of your choice.
  • A DLO can give you information about the steps to take and the documentation you will need to get help from that unis disability services.

What can a DLO help with?

  • Gathering documentation will be required for alternative assessments, including exam provisions
  • Any issues you should consider before you nominate your course preferences
  • Academic/teaching staff who may be able to assist you
  • Assistance during enrolment (if you need it)
  • A personal orientation to help you to get to know the campus before you start
  • General orientation programs available, e.g. academic study skills, social clubs, campus tours, and opportunities to meet other students and
  • Annual Tertiary Taste programs (where prospective students get to try a day at uni) for students with disability. 

What questions could I ask a DLO?

  • What facilities are available to support students with my type of disability and where are they on-campus (e.g.: a Chill-out Room; Computer Lab with Assistive Technology available; hearing loops in all lecture theatres, lifts, etc)
  • What documentation will be required for alternative assessments, including exam provisions?
  • What issues should I consider before I nominate my course preferences?
  • Which Academic/teaching staff would be available to help me with information about the course/s I am considering?
  • What assistance can I get during enrolment (if you need it)?
  • Is there any opportunity to get a personal orientation to help me get to know the campus before I make my uni decisions/start classes?
  • Is there a general orientation program available, e.g. academic study skills, social clubs, campus tours, and opportunities to meet other students?
  • Are there any Taste-test programs (where prospective students get to try a day at university) for students with disability?

More Tips for Talking with a DLO

  • Get in contact with the DLOs early. Early means during the year before you start uni and definitely before you start your course!
  • The earlier you disclose to the DLO the better your chances of making the best possible support arrangements. DLOs are happy to meet with prospective students before their acceptance into their university.
  • When you find out who the DLO is, make a note of their name; phone number and email address. Keep a record of the DLOs you have had contact with because you may need to follow up with them later on.
  • Don't wait until you have struck problems at university to contact the DLO! This only makes it more difficult to get the right arrangements in place.
  • If you plan to meet the DLO, ring ahead. Some universities require you to make an appointment if you want to meet the DLO in person.

Disability and Student support services

Find out about the disability support services available at the unis you are considering. Unis generally have a specific disability support service which provides advice, practical assistance and support to students and potential students with disability. Examples of disability services usually provided in unis are:

  • notetaking
  • scribes
  • readers
  • provision of material in alternative format
  • access to and loans of the latest available Assistive Technology
  • interpreters
  • library assistance
  • campus transport and
  • exam and alternative assessment arrangements.

Get an understanding of the other types of adjustments and arrangements that may benefit you, including:

  • alternative enrolment and other administration procedures to accommodate disability needs
  • disabled parking arrangements
  • physical access to buildings and around campus
  • ability to move lecture/tutorial venues to accessible buildings
  • quiet/chill out rooms/areas for students
  • counselling services and
  • health services.

Check out the uni's website for more information about the disability services on offer.

Try out the uni campus before you decide whether the uni is the right one for you. This is vital if you have mobility impairment or are vision impaired. It is particularly important to try sitting in on a lecture (ask the DLO for help with arranging this), having a meal, using the toilet and accessing the library.

Student Support Services

Find out about the student support services available at each uni and campus you are interested in going to. All unis offer some form of student support services, however the level, type and quality varies between unis and campuses.

  • Look for details about each uni's student support services in more than one place. You will find this type of information via the Universities Admissions Centre, 'The Good University Guide' or directly from the uni.
  • Think about what types of student support services you may need and those that you would find most useful.
  • Think about your individual situation and the circumstances that are most likely to occur and how this will be likely to affect the types of student support services you might need to get through uni. Here are a few examples of the kind of things to take into account. If you:
    • are relying on public transport to get to and from uni, it may be more important to you to have a post office, bank or newsagent on campus.
    • have no ready access to a computer at home, computer support on campus may be very important to you.
    • are likely to be on campus after dark a shuttle bus service may be very important to you.
    • will be living away from home while at uni, a social club and/or sporting activities may be important to you.
  • Consider how you could use student support services at uni to help accommodate your disability at uni.
  • With each type of student support that you have learnt about and/or believe you will need, rank them in order of highest importance to you personally. Do a reality test of these priorities by talking with those around you who know best what supports you are most likely to need at uni.
  • For more information about the types of disability support services usually available at unis and who to contact for more detail see Your disability at uni.
  • Finally, compare what is available at each uni you are interested in and likely to get a place at.

Community Support Services

Think about what type of help you might need on a daily basis while studying at uni. For example, the types of help you may need could be:

  • personal care to get ready in the mornings, or going to the toilet or having a meal while attending uni
  • coaching and counselling to help you to cope with the effect of uni pressures and stress
  • community transport to and from uni and/or
  • help to learn how to catch a train or bus to uni or how to get around the uni campus.

You may already have these arrangements in place to help with school life. These arrangements will probably need to be adjusted to fit uni life. You may also need different types of assistance. Talk to your community service provider(s) about whether and how these changes can be negotiated and put in place.

If there are other types of help that you are not currently getting but think you may need while studying at uni, find out where you can get this assistance. Investigate these new arrangements and supports as early as possible because they often involve long waiting lists, complicated processes of assessments and/or applications for funding. Talk to your Support Teacher Transition, Disability Liaison Officer, case worker or any community service already involved about where to find additional services needed and how to get help coordinating these services.

This website also talks about how to arrange help with your uni work. See Planning your disability support services for more information. Also the National Disability Insurance Scheme commenced at trial sites in July 2014 - a new way of providing community linking and individualised support for people with permanent and significant disability, their families and carers.

Useful Websites

Here are websites that may assist you to find an appropriate community support service:

Government agency

  • Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care (ADHC) provides, funds and monitors community support services to people with disabilities and older people. The website includes contact details for their regional offices and also links to other websites. Phone your closest regional office to find information about disability services in your area.

Contact details for disability specific services

  • For people with acquired brain injury
    Brain Injury Association of NSW
    T: 02 9749 5366 | E:
  • For people with arthritis
    The Arthritis Foundation of NSW
    T: 02 9683 1622 | E:
  • For people who are blind or have a vision impairment
    Vision Australia
    T: 1300 847 466 | TTY: 9747 5993 | E:
  • For people who are deaf or hearing impaired
    Deaf Society of NSW
    T: 02 9893 8555 | TTY: 02 9893 8858 | E:
  • For people who have a mental illness
    Mental Health Association (Mental Health Information Service)
  • For people with physical disability
    The Northcott Society
    T: 02 9890 0100 | E:
  • For people who have a spinal injury
    ParaQuad NSW
    T: 02 8741 5600 | E:

Local councils usually have a community officer who may also be able to provide details of local services.