DSAs are important for deaf people – now I know why

Liam (radioshow photo)

Liam O’Dell former YAB member

I heard about Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSA) a while ago. My deaf friends would turn to me and talk about all the changes that are happening to DSAs and Personal Independence Payments (PIP). It sounds bad, but for a long time I thought I couldn’t get DSAs, so the changes didn’t bother or affect me. It was only when I spoke to an advisor at my university that I realised how important they are to deaf people across the UK.

For a long time, I didn’t bother applying for DSAs because I thought the support available was just note-takers, interpreters and lip-speakers, which I personally don’t use. It was through that appointment with my university’s Disability service that I realised DSAs can cover more than that – and I was annoyed I hadn’t applied sooner!

After sorting out evidence for my application, an appointment with my DSA assessor was arranged. Although I had no previous experience talking to an assessor, I knew a bit about what it would involve through my work with the NDCS’ Youth Advisory Board (YAB). During my time on the YAB, I remember a lot of people saying how strict they can be with their assessments – but that definitely was not the case for me.

If anything, I think a DSA assessor is more like a lawyer who will fight your corner, but who will also be honest if they think something isn’t going to work. In the end, it was decided that I could benefit from having a palantypist (or ‘speech-to-text reporter), a dictaphone recorder, and someone to help me when listening to audio recordings.

Since then, all my support has been arranged and it’s amazing how much DSAs is helping me. Without this support, I would have had concerns. But, now that I have the allowance in place, this is not an issue. Now I know how DSAs can put the minds of deaf students at rest.

An update on Disabled Student Allowances

Martin McLean

Martin McLean, Education and Training Policy Advisor (post-14)

Back in August last year, I wrote about the Government’s plans to make changes to Disabled Student Allowances (DSAs) and our fears on how deaf students might be negatively affected. Six months on, it is time to revisit the situation and see where we are following our campaign.

The Government carried out a public consultation in September. Following the consultation, they announced they were going ahead with their plans to cut DSAs. Our main concern was that funding would no longer be available for manual note-takers who take notes for deaf students in lectures whilst they are lip-reading or following a sign language interpreter. I have some good news to report – the Government has recognised that this could put the education of deaf students at risk and have granted an exemption to the DSA changes for specialist note-takers for deaf or visually impaired students. This is someone who has received training on how to write comprehensive notes for deaf or VI students.

Provided that a DSA assessor makes a recommendation for a deaf student to receive a specialist note-taker, DSA funding will be available.

However, less good news is that there are some deaf students who make use of proof-reading services to ensure they are not unfairly disadvantaged when writing assignments by literacy difficulties. Proof-readers will no longer be funded by DSAs and responsibility for funding of this support now lies with universities.

What if this becomes an issue? The Government has introduced an Exceptional Case Process. Where a DSA assessor has made a recommendation for support that is to be provided by a university (e.g. proof-reading) and the university refuses to put in place this support, the student can apply to the Exceptional Case Process for temporary DSA funding to be put into place whilst a complaint is registered with the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA).

We had concerns about the role of the OIA because traditionally it has taken a very long time to reach decisions (In 2014 cases took an average of 207 days to close). However, the Government has assured us the OIA will be expected to close the majority of its cases within 3 months in line with a European directive.

Finally, as well, as the changes to DSAs, the Government is introducing a registration system for providers of support funded through DSAs. We are uncertain as to whether this might mean there will be fewer interpreters and other forms of support available to deaf students.

We will be monitoring the impact of all of the changes and to do this we need your help. If you are a student at university or applying for support from DSAs and you do not have the support you need in place or have any problems, we want to hear about it. Contact our helpline to tell us about your experiences.

We want to say a big thank you to everyone who took part in our DSA campaign. Your campaign actions helped to raise awareness of the potential impact the changes could have had on deaf students and played their part in ensuring that higher education remains accessible.

The changes in Martin’s article affect students applying for DSAs from Student Finance England only. DSAs will remain the same for students applying from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. However, the Welsh Government is currently considering whether to bring in changes to DSAs for the 2017-18 academic year.

MPs want to hear about your experience of PIP assessments!

 

Arthur Thomas Campaigns Officer

Arthur Thomas Policy & Campaigns Officer

MPs want to hear about your experience of the PIP (personal independence payments) claims process, by this Thursday!

They want to hear:

  • Your experience of the PIP assessment process
  • If you have experienced backlogs
  • About the quality of assessments
  • Any difference between Atos and Capita

As part of our PIP’d Off campaign NDCS are working closely with the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC) to campaign to make the PIP claim process accessible and fair. The DBC have set up a survey so that people can submit their experiences  as a group. The closing date for submissions to the PAC inquiry is this Thursday, 28 January 2015, so  lets get cracking!

Complete-the-survey-button-red

 

You can also tell MPs your story via twitter by tweeting comments to @CommonsPAC on Twitter with the hastag #disability.

If you have any questions, you can contact the NDCS Campaigns Team at: campaigns@ndcs.org.uk

Join Scotland’s first British Sign Language National Advisory Group

Katie Rafferty, Policy and Campaigns Officer Scotland

Katie Rafferty, Policy and Campaigns Officer Scotland

After years of campaigning, the passage of the British Sign Language (Scotland) Act (2015) in September 2015 was a landmark moment in Deaf history in Scotland. As a result of the Act the Scottish Government and public bodies like the NHS are now required to develop British Sign Language (BSL) plans which outline how they will promote and raise awareness of the language.

The Act also requires a National Advisory Group (NAG) to be set up to represent the views of people with BSL as their first or preferred language. The NAG will have the important job of advising the Scottish Government and public bodies on what should be in their plans.

Here’s the top 6 things to know:

  1. Two spaces are reserved on the NAG for families of deaf child who have BSL as their first or preferred language, one of these spaces is for a hearing parent or carer;
  1. Two spaces are also reserved on the NAG for deaf young people aged 10 to 17 (or up to 20 if they have experience of care). However young people will follow a separate application process because a Youth NAG is also going to be set up. Information about this will launch in January;
  1. You do not need to have formal experience of advisory groups to get involved in the NAG, your life experience and ability to represent the views of others in similar circumstances to your own is what counts;
  1. You can submit your application in BSL or English. NDCS (or any other Deaf Sector Partnership organisation) can help you with your application, get in touch with Anne-marie@ndcs.org.uk with any questions;
  1. You can find the application and information pack on the Deaf Sector Partnership website – with full BSL versions. There is also lots of information on Facebook, search for the ‘British Sign Language (Scotland) Act (2015)’ group to join the discussion;
  1. The deadline for applications to the main NAG is 28 January 2016.

Broken promises in education?

NDCS - Ian Noon, Head of Policy and Research

Ian Noon, Head of Policy and Research

Today is the first anniversary of the Children and Families Act 2014. This made lots of big changes to the education system with the Government promising that the changes would result in children with special educational needs (SEN) and disabilities getting better support.

But you may want to hold on before getting any birthday candles out…. when we asked parents of deaf children recently if they had noticed any improvements to the support that their child receives over the past year, we were pretty shocked that only 6% said they had.

This is one of many worrying stats in a new campaign report called One year on, being published today by the National Deaf Children’s Society. The report includes the results from our survey of parents of deaf children, as well as views from deaf young people and our analysis of the quality of information that local authorities are providing through their ‘Local Offers’ (one of the big changes made last year).

Some other shocking stats from the report include:

  • Only one in ten parents of deaf children were confident that their local authority is successfully implementing the changes.
  • Only 16% of families had seen the Local Offer for where they live.
  • Of those that had seen their Local Offer, 24% said it was easy to find the information they were looking for and 28% reported that the Local Offer gave them information about support for deaf children in their area.
  • Only 7% of parents said their child had been afforded a direct opportunity to help develop the Local Offer and give their views on it.

    Email your MP button about the broken promise in education

    Email your MP about these broken promises in education

  • When we looked the information provided within Local Offers, we found that in 41 Local Offers, it was hard to find information about special schools and resource provisions in the area. 93 local authorities didn’t provide information about specialist provision outside of their own area.
  • Where deaf children were undergoing an assessment for an Education, Health and Care plan (which are replacing statements of SEN), 29% did not feel that the local authority took steps to minimise disruption to their family during the assessment process and 58% had to repeat the same information about their child to different people – both things that families were told would change under the new system.

Overall, our analysis suggests that many local authorities are not doing a great job in implementing these changes and that some may in fact be acting unlawfully. For example, by law, the Local Offer must include information on special schools in the area and nearby, yet our analysis suggests that many are failing to do so.

You could argue that these are just teething troubles and that more time is needed for these changes to bed in. But it’s worth remembering that many of the above changes were piloted for over 2 years in advance of September 2014. Press releases from the Department for Education at the time trumpeted how many local authorities reported being ready for the changes. And the Department for Education has funded a wide range of bodies (including the National Deaf Children’s Society) to support local authorities in implementing these changes.

The National Deaf Children’s Society report makes a number of recommendations to help the Department for Education and local authorities keep their promises to parents of deaf children. At the top of the list is making sure that Ofsted hold local authorities to account. We’ve been long-promised a new inspection framework. But, one year on, there hasn’t yet been a consultation document on how this will work. And early indications suggest that any inspections will be fairly general and won’t have any specific focus on the specialist education services that deaf children rely and which are key to making sure these reforms work for deaf children.

You can support our campaign work in this area by emailing your MP and asking them to raise our concerns with the Government. And if you want to find out more yourself about these changes and your rights under the new system, take a look at the factsheets on our website.

The Government made a range of promises that children with special educational needs and disabilities would get better support. One year on, it’s time to hold the Government to these promises.

Should English always be the key to progress?

Martin McLean Project Manager I-Sign

Martin McLean – Education and Training Policy Advisor (Post-14)

Three quarters of employers believe action is required to improve English and Maths skills with poor literacy and numeracy amongst employees having a negative impact on business according to reports. The last government took note. They introduced requirements for young people in England aged 16 to 18 who failed to achieve grade C in English and Maths to continue studying these subjects. This includes those on apprenticeships – advanced apprenticeships now require apprentices to pass Level 2 (equivalent to C grade GCSE) Maths and English in order to complete their qualification. Under the new majority Conservative government these requirements are not expected to change.

So far, so good many of you may be thinking. Nobody can deny that Maths and English are important skills that can provide a strong foundation to build on. However, are the new arrangements good for everyone? I came across a case recently where a young deaf apprentice was told he would not be able to progress to Year 2 of an advanced apprenticeship without passing Level 2 English. The student who uses British Sign Language (BSL) as his main language is doing very well at all other taught parts of his apprenticeship including a BTEC and Maths. His employer is very happy with his work.

The apprentice who is currently struggling to complete Level 1 English is worried he will now not be able to progress to Level 3 standard in engineering on the grounds of his written English not being good enough. He does however, have fluency in a recognised language of this country – BSL. NDCS believes that it is unfair for the government to lay down English requirements with no exemptions. The result of this is that some deaf students could be barred from achieving Level 3 qualifications within sectors of employment where a high level of written English is not strictly necessary. NDCS had successfully argued against English and Maths GCSEs being compulsory to start an apprenticeship in a government consultation a few years ago. However, the issue has come to the fore again.

Those taking vocational qualifications such as NVQs and BTECs in Further Education can face similar issues. It is not compulsory to pass English and Maths in order to achieve a qualification. However, I have heard of several examples of deaf students being prevented from progressing to Level 3 by colleges on the grounds of poor literacy. For those fluent in BSL it can be argued that their BSL skills compensate for weaker English skills.

Is it right that a student’s level of English should be the passport to progression to Level 3 and beyond? It is true that courses at Level 3 and above require greater independent study and the ability to read a range of resources. However, entry to courses should be considered on a case to case basis rather than automatically rejecting students based on English GCSE results. If a deaf student has proven that they are capable of completing vocational qualifications at Level 2, it only seems right they should be allowed to progress to Level 3. With the right support they can go a long way.

What are your views? Submit a comment below – we would love to read your opinions on this issue.

For further information about apprenticeships:

Information for parents

Information for deaf young people

Campaign victory on Disabled Students Allowance!

NDCS - Ian Noon, Head of Policy and Research

Ian Noon, Head of Policy and Research

The Government has postponed its plans to cut back on support for disabled students, after a deaf young person initiated legal action.

The legal action had recently been given permission to proceed to a ‘Judicial Review’. A court would have considered whether the Government had acted unlawfully in failing to consult directly with disabled students about these changes. A Judge had already said that she was “not impressed” with the Government’s arguments that it didn’t have to consult.

Yesterday, the Department announced that it would allow more time for consultation, accepting that “there are concerns that some [Higher Education] institutions are not yet in a position to deliver a fully accessible service to students, and that this may result in a negative impact for some students.”

The proposed cuts would have meant that deaf students would be more reliant on universities to provide any support they might need. However, NDCS argued that the changes shouldn’t go ahead until proper safeguards were in place to make sure that no deaf students were abandoned without the support they need.

NDCS is extremely proud of Zanna, a member of the NDCS Young People’s Advisory Board, who had initiated the legal action. She has sent a strong signal to the Government that no changes that affect disabled people should be made without their involvement. We’re extremely disappointed that it was necessary for Zanna to take legal action to force the Government to listen.

The changes have been postponed, rather than abandoned – so we’ll be working hard to make sure that whichever Government is elected in May promises to involve disabled students directly on issues like this.