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The University of Southampton
Enabling ServicesPart of Student Services

Needs assessment process

The process of DSA needs assessment seems complicated to describe, but is quite straightforward in practice. This overview will help you understand the four stages.

If you have any questions about the process please contact Enabling Services.

DSA Application

The first step is to establish whether you are eligible for DSA. Submit an application for Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSA) to your funding body (for example, Student Finance England, the NHS or a Research Council) with a copy of your medical evidence or educational psychologist’s report. The application uses the DSA1 form.

If your application is accepted, your funding body will write and ask you to contact a needs assessment centre to arrange an appointment.

Please keep this letter in a safe place as the Assessment Centre will need to take a copy.

Booking a needs assessment appointment

You may contact any accredited needs assessment centre to arrange your appointment. The Wessex Needs Assessment Centre (WNAC) is a long-established, fully accredited, professional needs assessment centre at Highfield campus, which is part of the University of Southampton. WNAC is not restricted to students at the University of Southampton.

WNAC also operates five outreach Needs Assessment Centres in the south of England, and one of these alternative locations may suit you better. For more details, visit the how to book an appointment web page.

Visit our find us page for more information about the locations of our assessment centres.


The assessment fee which is paid for from your DSA funding is £625. 

What’s included in this fee: 

  • An assessment of a student’s needs
  • A report to detail the student’s support needs
  • Support after your assessment if support needs to be reviewed
  • Liaison with funding bodies, equipment providers and universities regarding reviews of DSA support

If you need support after your assessment please contact us if you require your DSA support to be reviewed or further advice during your course.   We are able to support students by liaising with funding bodies, equipment providers and your University if your DSA support needs to be reviewed or adjusted.

Visit the how to book an appointment web page for details of the documents and evidence that must to be sent to WNAC before the appointment.

Things to consider before your appointment

We encourage you to consider the following before attending your needs assessment:

  • Think about how your disability might affect you when you study
  • Think about how effective your previous study strategies were at School or College. Did you have help from the family, friends or teachers? People who might not be able to help so much now? Maybe your classes were small compared to University/College lectures? 
  • Consider all the things you will want to be able to do when taking the course, e.g. for example attend lectures and take notes, do research, write essays, use computers, go on placements, or take part in field trips.
  • Find out about the activities the course will expect you to participate in.
  • How is the course delivered (lectures, seminars, group work, etc.)?
  • How are you assessed (coursework, presentations, exams, etc.)?
  • Will you need to use any specific course-related equipment or software? 
  • How many teaching hours are there every week? 
  • Think about what strategies you might use, some of which might involve using technology aids, to participate in the course as independently as possible 
  • Speak to your tutors and Enabling Services advisors about your specific needs. 
  • You may want to bring recent examples of your written work, such as lecture notes or essays, especially if these have been marked and commented on by a tutor 
  • A letter from a tutor or support advisor giving details of any specific concerns. The letter should not make recommendations for specific equipment or study support.

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About the needs assessment

Students are sometimes anxious about the needs assessment process. The word "assessment" may make you think you are going to be tested in some way. This is not what a needs assessment is about. There are no tests, although you may be offered the chance to try out some equipment or software to see if it suits you. Needs assessors are friendly and experienced in meeting students with all kinds of disability and difficulty, and will soon set you at ease.

The purpose of the assessment is to work out what equipment will best help you overcome the difficulties caused by your disability, so that you are not disadvantaged compared to your fellow students. The assessment is completely non-judgemental.

The needs assessor will ask you to explain in your own words what effect your disability has on your ability to study. For all students, the assessment is an opportunity for their concerns to be heard and taken seriously. For some students, the assessment may be the first time they have been able to express their concerns in a sympathetic environment.

You can only be assessed for disabilities for which proof has been provided and accepted by your funding body. An assessor cannot make recommendations relating to a disability that is disclosed during the needs assessment.

Most students only require one needs assessment, but if you have a more complex disability your assessor may recommend a further appointment with a specialist, such as an ergonomic specialist or other professional who can help work out exactly what additional equipment you may require to fully support you on your course.

How long is a needs assessment?

A needs assessment normally takes up to two hours. Occasionally it may take longer if the situation is complex. Needs assessments are usually one-to-one, but a family member may accompany you if you wish (this is your decision). With your permission, we may ask an observer to join the assessment as part of our own training and appraisal of assessors. Please arrive in good time so you can settle down before the assessment begins.

How does the assessor work with me for my needs assessment?

First, the assessor will discuss your particular difficulties and identify useful study strategies to help you deal effectively with your study skills requirements. You will have the opportunity to discuss all your concerns. Next, the assessor may introduce you to some relevant assistive software programs and technology. Assessors may also discuss human support such as study skills sessions, mentoring, and assistive technology training.

The Needs Assessment report

The assessor will write a report that makes specific recommendations for support through the provision of equipment, assistive software and helpers. Recommendations are intended to meet disability-related needs. In practice, this means that Apple computers cannot be approved except in very unusual circumstances. If you wish to switch to any equipment other than what is recommended, you will be expected to fund any associated costs.

Funding bodies expect each recommendation to be justified with reference to discussion during the assessment and the medical or psychological evidence provided. The report must also take into account the requirements of your course. If a recommendation is justified, the funding body is normally able to release the necessary funds.

The report will also suggest strategies based on your needs which you can use during your studies.

Recommendations usually include the following:

  • Equipment and assistive software: details of costs and alternative suppliers
  • Helpers: hours and costs 
  • Miscellaneous or travel costs

Distribution of the report

Copies of the needs assessment report are sent to you, your funding body and (with your permission) the Disability Adviser at your University. You may choose to review the report before it is sent to your funding body and University, but this will delay approval by the funding body by a few days.

Please read your report carefully and keep a copy for reference. All assessment reports are checked before being sent out, but occasionally an error may can occur and something may be missing from the report or not correctly represented. If you notice any errors or omissions please contact us.

How long does this process take?

Your assessor is expected to write your report and send it to you and your funding body for approval of recommendations within 10 working days. For more complex disabilities the time may be longer to give your assessor time to source specialist equipment. Please see the WNAC Key Performance Indicators/Service Level Agreements schedule. If you do not hear from WNAC within these times please contact us.

Response from your funding body

After the report has been sent to the funding body, its recommendations are evaluated and either agreed or rejected. If a recommendation is justified, it is normally agreed. The funding body has the final say on whether support recommendations are agreed. The time taken by a funding body to contact you is the funding body’s responsibility.

You will receive a letter from your funding body containing their decisions about funding. If you disagree with their decisions please contact them directly. The letter will explain what has been agreed and how the ordering process works (it may differ depending on the funding body).

The options are:

  • The selected supplier will contact you to arrange delivery and the funding body will pay them (this is the usual method for SFE).
  • You contact the selected supplier and they will deliver it and then invoice your funding body.
  • Funds may be paid directly into your bank account and you then contact the selected supplier and arrange delivery. You will be asked to submit receipts to the funding body.

Arranging other support

Contact your Disability Adviser to make arrangements for study skills advisers, a mentor, or other human support. Make contact as soon as possible to avoid delays. If your DSA support requires reviewing please contact us during your course for advice.

Insurance and reimbursement

If insurance has not been included in the equipment quote you must arrange insurance for the computer and other valuable items. This applies to all equipment owned before the assessment.

If your equipment is uninsured it cannot be replaced via the DSA in the event of loss, theft or damage. Please note that loading additional software onto or modifying a DSA-funded computer might invalidate the supplier’s insurance and/or warranty.

Funding bodies will not consider reimbursement for items purchased before the needs assessment, nor for items purchased during study without prior approval.

Reviewing your DSA support

Please contact us if you require your DSA support to be reviewed or further advice during your course. We are able to support students by liaising with funding bodies. Equipment providers and your University if your DSA support needs to be reviewed or adjusted. This is all included in the assessment fee that is paid for, for your assessment from your DSA allowance. We can also advise when questions and queries would be best directed to the support services at your University.

We need your feedback

We value feedback to improve the service we offer to students. We will contact you during your course to see how you have found the DSA process and how you are finding the support offered.

Please call or email us with any feedback or complete our feedback from here . The assessment centre follows the complaints procedure of the University available at this link .

DSA- QAG provides an opportunity to feedback on the process and we would encourage you to complete this. As our quality assurance body DSA-QAG can also be contacted in the event that you are dissatisfied with the outcome of a complaint.


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