I have recently written about changes to Disabled Student Allowances (DSAs) that the Government has been consulting on. These are planned for the academic year 2016-17 and will affect new students starting their degree courses that year. However, for students starting this year, there is a new policy that might affect them.
The Government has introduced a cancellation policy for bookings for support workers paid for by DSAs such as interpreters, notetakers, speech to text, etc. DSA funding will now not normally be available for bookings cancelled with more than 24 hours’ notice. This policy is somewhat ill thought-out as most communication support providers have terms and conditions of booking which state that cancellations must be made at least two weeks in advance to avoid cancellation fees. This means that deaf students or university disability teams risk being left to cover the cost of cancellation fees which can be up to 100% of the cost of the booking (two BSL interpreters booked for two hours could cost £250 in total). Ouch.
Terms and conditions can of course be negotiated and it may be that some providers agree to waive their cancellation fees for the benefit of deaf students. However, it’s likely to turn many off from wanting to work in HE if they risk being cancelled at short notice. Ah, you might think what if you cancelled the booking with less than 24 hours’ notice? No, think again. Yes, the booking would be paid for through DSAs but if you miss or cancel at the last minute two or more times in one term then DSAs could be withdrawn altogether.
Now, the two missed sessions clause, we really do have concerns with and it could potentially be discriminatory under the Equality Act. Unlike hearing students, a deaf student who has an interpreter or notetaker booked for them will be required to attend every single lecture or their DSAs will be at risk. If someone is being a typical student (cue flashback to those wild nights), then we might expect them to miss a class or two. But now deaf students will have pressure on them to be paragons of virtue.
I’m not suggesting that it is acceptable for deaf students to have a disregard for any support that has been booked for them through the public purse. Where a student has continuously missed sessions for which support has been booked there are questions to be asked. However, this policy seems somewhat harsh as it means a student who is unable to attend a lecture for whatever reason (oversleeping, transport problems, illness, etc) have the additional stress of having to worry about whether their DSAs are under threat. Without the right support, deaf students are at risk of dropping out of university and this is not good use of public money either.
The Government have yet to publish full details of the new policy and they have told NDCS that our concerns will be passed onto the team developing the detail. When this comes out NDCS will develop guidance for young people as soon as we can. It is regrettable that as deaf young people start university over the next couple of weeks, starting an exciting new period in their lives, that we are having to warn them about this threat hanging over them.