The Best Student Life. Bristol SU


What is a disability?

The Equality Act 2010 describes a disability as a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities.

Physical disabilities

A physical disability is something that results in a limitation on a person's physical functioning, mobility, dexterity or stamina.
Physical disabilities also include things that limit other facets of daily living, such as respiratory disorders, blindness, epilepsy and sleep disorders.

Some examples of Physical Disabilities are:

  • Arthritis
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Dwarfism
  • Epilepsy
  • Multiple-sclerosis
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Acquired spinal injury (paraplegia or quadriplegia)
  • Tourette syndrome
  • Spina bifida

Learning disabilities and learning difficulties

Learning disabilities and difficulties can affect a person’s ability to learn new things, develop skills and communicate.

There is no single interpretation or consensual definition of the terms 'learning difficulty' and 'learning disability'. Different organisations and local authorities have their own definition of the term.

One way to interpret learning disabilities from difficulties is:

Learning disability = a significant, lifelong condition that incapacitates and leads to help being required to:

  • Understand information
  • Learn skills
  • Cope independently

Learning difficulty = an obstacle that substantially affects a person’s ability to learn, get along with others and follow convention.

Mental health disabilities

A mental health condition is considered a disability if it has a significant long-term effect on your normal day-to-day activity. This is defined under the Equality Act 2010.

Your condition is ‘long term’ if it lasts, or is likely to last, 12 months.

‘Normal day-to-day activity’ is defined as something you do regularly in a normal day. This includes things like using a computer, working set times or interacting with people.

There are many different types of mental health condition which can lead to a disability, including:

  • dementia
  • depression
  • bipolar disorder
  • obsessive compulsive disorder
  • schizophrenia

See our Mental Health Page for more information and links to support services.

Your rights

Publicly funded education providers such as Universities have a duty under the Equality Act not to discriminate against potential, current or former students. All aspects of studying are covered including:

  • course admissions
  • the provision of education
  • access to any benefit, facility or service
  • exclusions

It’s against the law for employers or education providers to discriminate against you because of a disability. 

What the University can do

The University has a guidance document for schools working with disabled students. It lets faculties and schools know about the best ways to respond to students who disclose a disability. The key points from this guidance are:

Reasonable adjustments

An education provider has a duty to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to make sure disabled students are not discriminated against. These changes could include providing extra support and aids (like specialist teachers or equipment).

All universities and higher education colleges should have a person in charge of disability issues that you can talk to about the support they offer.

Examples of reasonable adjustments:

  • Providing communication support for a student with a hearing impairment at an admissions interview
  • Providing extra working time in exams to students with dyslexia
  • Timetabling teaching sessions such that there is level or lift access to all teaching venues for a student with a mobility impairment

Anticipatory adjustments

The University should also offer anticipatory adjustments.

The duty to support students arises at the point of disclosure and there are many actions that faculties and schools can take – both to: (1) anticipate the needs of disabled students; and (2) support students in the interim period between disclosure and a DSS being produced.

Examples of anticipatory adjustments:

  • Providing accessible buildings
  • Making teaching materials available to all students electronically (e.g., on Blackboard)
  • Offering students choices with regard to assessed coursework, e.g., a choice of a presentation, a submitted portfolio, or an essay -- rather than a mandatory presentation

To implement reasonable adjustments, the University requires the student to produce supporting evidence of a disability. This is likely to be from a GP or consultant, an educational psychologist or specialist teacher, or a psychiatrist.
If the student does not have supporting evidence and is uncertain how to proceed, they can see Disability Services, who will advise regarding how best to obtain evidence.

Interim Support

Interim support may be put in place after a discussion with the student about their study support needs. The student need not have evidence available at this stage, though there is an expectation that evidence will be provided in due course. The student need not have been in contact with Disability Services, though it may be in their best interests at this point to make an appointment with a Disability Adviser to explore their options for support. The distinction between interim support and reasonable adjustments is that reasonable adjustments are not implemented until the student has provided evidence of a disability.

Examples of interim support:

  • Making teaching materials available on Blackboard
  • Offering a coursework extension
  • Offering an alternative to group work while awaiting a diagnosis of Asperger syndrome

A student has a legal right to request that the nature of their disability is kept confidential.

However, we would recommend that any students for who are appealing or complaining on Disability grounds take a through look at the Guidance and contact Just Ask.

Support available

Disability Services

The University Disability Services Team offer confidential information, advice and guidance for current and prospective students.

They can:

  • Provide information about support at University, such as exam arrangements or advice for your School about supporting you in your studies
  • Provide Information about funding to pay for study support, such as Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSAs) and the University's Disability Resource Fund (DRF)
  • Liaison with other parts of the University, such as the Library or the Accommodation Office about the impact of your disability
  • Signposting to other sources of information and support

Disability Coordinators

Each School within the University has a Disability Coordinator who coordinates support for disabled students within the academic school, including the implementation of Disability Support Summaries (DSS). 

Disabled Students' Network

The Disabled Students’ Network provides a safe space for those who identify as Disabled. They encourage a positive community and student-led campaigns. They run forums, socials, events and campaigns and it’s free to be a member. 


If you are a Disabled student and wish to park at the University, you will need to apply for a Disabled parking permit from the University.

  • There are certain criteria you need to meet and evidence you need to provide.
  • Get the application form here. There may be deadlines for these applications each year.