Disabled students at university: discussion paper

Independent paper from the Commissioner for Fair Access considers representation, entrant trends, retention and degree outcomes for disabled students by disability group.

Annex B - Disability classifications

Official statistics on disabled students tend to consider this group without further breakdown by specific disabilities, impairments or medical conditions. Since disabled students have a variety of conditions, and thus a wide range of support needs, it is helpful to look at the group in more depth. For this reason, the analysis in this paper considers a self-declared disability variable which distinguishes between specific impairments or conditions, rather than the marker for receipt of Disabled Students' Allowance (DSA).

There are nine different categories of disability collected on HESA records, excluding the category for no known disability. Partitioning the data into the nine HESA disability categories may lead to figures which are very small, vulnerable to relatively large fluctuations and unsuitable for trend analysis. Therefore, aggregate groups were created for the purpose of this paper, using the HESA categories as building blocks.

The aggregate groups were formed according to perceived types and levels of support and intervention. For example, students in the physical or sensory impairment group may need early intervention from their institution to attend or follow lectures. These aggregate groups are not intended to suggest a hierarchy of conditions, or that any group of disabilities is more "severe" than another. It is also important to note that the aggregate groups, and the underlying HESA categories, are not homogeneous.

A list of the conditions included within each disability group is provided below:

  • A specific learning difficulty (SpLD)

a specific learning difficulty such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, or AD(H)D

  • A mental health condition/Autism Spectrum Disorder (MH/ASD)

a mental health condition, such as depression, schizophrenia or anxiety disorder; a social/communication impairment such as Asperger's syndrome/other autistic spectrum disorder

  • A physical or sensory impairment (Phys/Sens)

deaf or a serious hearing impairment; blind or a serious visual impairment uncorrected by glasses; a physical impairment or mobility issues, such as difficulty using arms or using a wheelchair or crutches

  • Other disability or health condition (Other)

a long standing illness or health condition such as cancer, HIV, diabetes, chronic heart disease, or epilepsy; a disability, impairment or medical condition that is not listed above

  • 2+ impairments and/or disabling medical conditions (2+)

two or more impairments and/or disabling medical conditions


Email: Anna Green

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