#DSA and @SF_England have Failed Me: Crowdfunding a Laptop and Monitor for my Masters in Classical Studies

In March, I signed up for an MA in Classical Studies with the Open University. The course was fully funded (more on that in a sec but it’s basically a loan you pay back after graduation as long as you meet certain criteria). I plan to do the course in two years, part time.

I’m focused. I’m excited but I’m also stressed as fuck over the chaos it’s caused.

Now to the problem: I’m disabled and so was told I could apply for Disabled Students Allowance which (according to the team), that they would help me cover equipment (like a laptop and a larger monitor). I asked, specifically, when I put in the application if Apple items and things like the aforementioned ultrawide monitor would be eligible.

I was told, yes, they were.

I went into this, not feeling entitled but being reassured that my disability needs to be met. I assumed I’d be treated like non-disabled students and given any assistance I needed to be on the same page as every other student starting this course.

So I created my ideal equipment list, explained I was more than happy to contribute to the costs as well as justify each item, and waited…

But, Asha, you said the course was fully funded by Student Finance England, right?

It is. But…

Ideally, there should be enough to cover the £2400 for the first module and £4700ish for the second. I’m borrowing a total of £10,906. So, there should be around £3800 for a computer and monitor, right?

Yeah… No.

See I’ve borrowed the first module amount from the university, I need to pay this in October when my course starts. Student Finance England don’t just give you the full amount. It’s portioned out over three payments per year and however many years you tell them you’re doing the course.

I’m doing my course in two years, so two lots of three payments.

For year one I’ll get three payments of £1800, £1800 and £1850 in October, January and April. That’s £5450 in total, half my borrowed amount.

I’m using the first payment of £1800, plus £600 out of my January payment to cover year one. Year two will then be paid by a second loan, which I’ll then repay using the January, April and October 2020 instalments.

The remaining January and April 2021 payments will get me through my dissertation and the final year. I’m planning on doing a dissertation, subject to approval, that looks at Greco-Roman deities and their representation in computer games and other media like books and films. I’ll be using all my academic knowledge as well as my video gaming journalism experience to write this and I’m genuinely excited to get started.

So, as it stands, I have no money for equipment.

Back to DSA and SFE, who are responsible for agreeing to said equipment…

Now just because SFE okay the costs/equipment, it’s important to mention they require an ‘assessment’ which they outsource to various companies around the country. My local one took place in Norwich and by the end of it, I found a quiet disabled bathroom and cried.

Within ten minutes, I was told several things point-blank by the assessor:

  1. They (SFE) do not fund Apple equipment, even if there’s a legit reason for using that eco-system (in my case I use the built-in accessibility options). They will fund a laptop but it will be Windows-only and heavy. Apple is just too expensive.
  2. They will not cover the cost of a stand-alone monitor because, according to their logic, they’ve already supplied one in the aforementioned Windows laptop they’ll offer me. Also they’re using two utterly ancient and shockingly expensive pieces of accessible tech (JAWs and Supernova, both costing around £800 each per licence). I used both of these during my BA in 2002 . Just let that sink in for a sec. Also Supernova alone should turn a 15-17″ laptop into a 38″ monitor (Hint: No, it doesn’t).
  3. Don’t even get me started on a tablet. I bought an iPad of my own back just so I can read the set texts and it’ll take me until the end of the year to pay it off.

These three things made me literally want to walk out ten minutes in. I actually asked the assessor if I was wasting his time. This two-hour assessment cost £650, taken out of the ‘amount’ of DSA I’m eventually going to be awarded.

When I recovered myself, I emailed over my list and asked for them to put this through as the equipment I needed. I literally had to demand this as nothing they offered would actually be suitable for me as a blind person. I received an allowance for printing/photocopying and mentoring but the hardware was ‘pending’.

See, disability tech is expensive and it is, for the most part, dictated. I’m a former tech journalist and an expert about both my disability but also what I need to get myself up to par with those who don’t have my specific blend of issues.

DSA is supposed to supply equipment, in actually, aside from minor concessions, it’s not about having a person assessed, it’s about giving out the same stuff, regardless of your specific issues. Imagine being at boot camp and getting your kit, it’s not about checking clothing sizes or boots, it’s about being slung a duffle bag and shown to your dormitory.

So, if you’re blind they will automatically ‘offer’:

  • A heavy, Windows-based laptop. No, not a Surface or a hybrid. Just a cheap laptop.
  • Supernova.
  • JAWs.
  • A (grantedly useful) large print keyboard. Again, Windows-based.

Worse, I was put into a box and I really hate that.

So, I need help. Financing is an option but I’m wary of debt (bipolar and debt are a thing I’m trying to avoid.)

I don’t have to accept all or any of the equipment I’m offered. I do also have, if I accept hardware, to pay something like £200 to cover the cost of a ‘basic’ laptop. But why accept equipment which won’t come close to suiting my needs?

This why I’m asking for help.

Here’s my actual equipment list:

Ultrawide LG 38WK95C Monitor:

I need a single large screen. My short-sightedness is so bad that the screen needs to be really close but also enough real estate that I can split-screen (for example) Microsoft Word and the internet.

13″ Macbook Pro: £1,780.00 (Inc. VAT)

I need a fast machine that is also light (I can only carry so much and must use a backpack when working Tate). I can do a lot on an iPad, true, but some things need a laptop. Apple currently has its 10pc off education sale on which means this machine should see me through to my Ph.D too. Added bonus: I can easily connect it to an external monitor (see above).

Desk Lamp
http://www.optimalowvision.co.uk/product.cfm?prod=368&dept=367): £75

This is a weird one, true, but this was actually one of the items recommended to me in 2001. I need a very white kind of light and this lamp lasted me over a decade until it finally died. I miss it, truth be told.

Logitech, C920 HD Pro Webcam (https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B006A2Q81M): £60

My course involves the internet and the monitor I’m looking at doesn’t come with a microphone or camera. Hence the inclusion.


Essentially, to be able to comfortably do this Masters, I need to find £2920 to ensure that I’m on the same par as a non-disabled student.

In a perfect world, DSA would just cover this (and bear in mind, between the laptop and ‘specialist software’, we’re looking at around £2150 for a Windows machine, instead of the £1780 I need for an Apple machine.)

But we don’t live in a perfect world.

I hate asking for help but I need it. Everyone is keen on getting the token disabled students, it looks great on statistic sheets but actually making sure I can get access to the things I need is another story entirely.

So, if you can, I’d love a hand. Even if it’s just a couple of quid.

You can Paypal me at: https://www.paypal.me/ashabardonuk

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