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Home Info for universities, colleges & schools Resources Resources for staff Students with disabilities: good practice International Students with Disabilities: FAQs for International Officers

International Students with Disabilities: FAQs for International Officers

Q1: Why do I need to know about the Equality Act 2010 ("EA")?

A1: The Equality Act Part 6 (Education) replaces the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 but places equivalent obligations on education providers in the UK.  . Under the EA, Institutions of Higher and Further Education have a duty to not discriminate against disabled people. As an International Officer, you are likely to have the first contact with a prospective international student, and therefore have a key role in identifying students who may need extra disability support and then liaising with the Disability Office. You have responsibility under the Act to ensure that disabled students are not treated less favourably than their non disabled peers and to ensure that reasonable adjustments are put in place for such students. 

Q2: Are international students covered by the EA? To what extent?

A2: The EA part 6 covers all students, including international students, and anyone enquiring about admissions or enrolment. This means that from the first point of contact a disabled student is covered by the EA.

Under the Act, institutions have a duty not to treat disabled people less favourably (see Q3) for a reason related to their disability, and a duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled students. This means that a student's application must be treated on its academic merits, and any discussion about needs relating to a disability should be separate from the consideration of admission.  Institutions are required to make reasonable adjustments for international students in the same way as they would for home students. The only difference between international and home disabled students is that their study is not funded in the same way, and international students with disabilities are not eligible for publicly funded support. However, this does not mean that they are any less eligible for support for their studies from their institution. 

Q3: What is less favourable treatment?

A3: Less favourable treatment in admissions includes only admitting disabled students as a last resort or asking them to sit an additional test before any decision about admission is made.

Q4: What are reasonable adjustments?

A4: The EA does not define what 'reasonable adjustments' an institution should make, but the requirement is to ensure that disabled students are not placed at a substantial disadvantage. There are many examples of reasonable adjustments in the Post-16 Code of Practice, which is available from the Equality and Human Rights Commission. The Code of Practice was last revised in 2007 and has not been updated to reflect the EA.  Reasonable adjustments may include, amongst other things, making changes to examination arrangements, loaning specialist equipment, providing material in alternative formats (eg large print, Braille, on disk), putting lecture notes on the intranet, or employing specialist staff to work with students with specific learning difficulties.

Q5: How do I know a student is disabled?

A5: People applying to the institution need to have opportunities to disclose their disability. Institutions are under a positive duty not to discriminate against people with disabilities and should make a reasonable effort to find out whether students are disabled.  Opportunities to disclose on the application form may be in the form of a tick box with a code, as on the UCAS form, or something similar. This opportunity needs to be repeated when they arrive for induction, when they register, when they start classes, when they enrol at the library, at examination time, etc. 

The duty to make reasonable adjustments arises once the institution is aware that a student has a disability.  It is particularly important to encourage international students to disclose a disability at an early stage as, depending on the nature of support needed, it may take some time to arrange.  For example it may be hard to find an American Sign Language interpreter locally, or special equipment or adaptations may need to be ordered.

Even if students are used to living and studying independently at home, they may find that the added pressures of study abroad make extra support necessary – by discussing their needs with the institution in advance they can have the reassurance of knowing that support will be there if required.

Q6: If a student discloses a disability to me, what should I do?

A6: If a student discloses a disability to you, you should seek their consent to pass this information on, explaining to them your reasons for doing so, and to saying to whom the information will be given.  You should pass the information about the student's disability needs to the Disability Officer within your institution, who will be able to liaise further with the student and establish their support needs. You need to work closely with Disability Officers, and develop good and effective communication links, so that disabled students do not slip through the net.

Q7: What about confidentiality and disclosure?

A7: Institutions should operate strict policies of confidentiality, and should not pass information about a student's disability between staff without consent. Information about disability is considered sensitive personal under the Data Protection Act and so any information must be kept confidential and disclosed only with consent or where there is an emergency or other circumstance which make disclosure vital. With the student's consent, staff at an institution will be able to pass on information about the student's needs, although not exact details of their disability, to certain other members of staff such as the student's tutor, lecturers and the disability and exams offices. This is to ensure that reasonable adjustments can be made to support the student's needs, and students need to understand that it is in their best interests that relevant people are told about particular needs they have.

Q8: What do I need to know about support for international students with disabilities?

A8: Whether you are involved in international recruitment, or in advising students after arrival, you will need to liaise with your disability co-ordinator to ensure you have basic information about the support for international disabled students at your own institution.  It is best to put international disabled students in touch with the disability co-ordinator at an early stage to ensure that the student can get appropriate advice and information.  However, if you are likely to be dealing with enquiries you should be aware of the answers to some of the most common questions international students might ask.  These could cover how disclosing a disability would affect their application, why they should disclose information about their disability to the institution, how that information will be kept confidential within the institution, what support services would be available and how to access them, and details of costs and financial support.

You also need to know how to obtain information in alternative formats (eg in large print or on disk or tape) for international disabled students and how to relate to students with disabilities.

You will need to have a clear understanding of the Institution's confidentiality and disclosure policy, to know to whom and in what circumstances you should pass on information about a student's disability.

Q9: Who pays for support for international students with disabilities?

A9: There are no specific grants for students with disabilities available to international students.  However, under the EA, institutions have a duty to make reasonable adjustments, which might include providing adapted equipment, note-takers or assistants. However, if students need assistance with day to day living, the institution may not have a duty to pay for these costs, which students may need to find funding for themselves.  You should make students aware that this can be expensive, as labour costs in the UK are high compared to some countries, and ensure that they know this is an additional cost to budget for.

Q10: What happens if we can't provide the adjustments that a student needs?

A10: In rare cases, making adaptations for one particular student may not be deemed to be reasonable by your institution. This might be because of the high cost of a particular adjustment, or the lack of availability of specialist support eg American Sign Language interpreters, or if a requested reasonable adjustment would lower academic standards or be against competencies laid down by a professional body etc. In such a case, your institution must consider the student on an individual basis, and if you were not able to meet their needs, then it may be lawful for you to turn down an application because you are not able to meet the needs of the student. This needs to be explained to the student. Furthermore, this must not lead to a general policy of not allowing students with a certain disability to gain a place at the institution. Each student must be considered on an individual basis.

Q11: Where can I find out more?

A11: For further information about disability support in your institution contact your disability co-ordinator, or for more general information about supporting disabled students see the disability section of the Equality and Human Rights Commission http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/about-us/vision-and-mission/our-business-plan/disability-equality/

The Post-16 Code of Practice for the DDA part 4 is available to download from the EHRC website:  http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/uploaded_files/code_of_practice__revised__for_providers_of_post-16_education_and_related_services__dda_.pdf

Also see our Notes on good practice for institutions.

Other sources of information include:

© UKCISA 2012. This guidance was originally produced by UKCISA in association with Skill: the National Bureau for Students with Disabilities, and was updated in February 2012 by Nicola Benison of Eversheds LLP. The information in this guidance is given in good faith and has been carefully checked. UKCISA and Eversheds, however, accept no legal responsibility for its accuracy.

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