Student illustration

European disability support services for UK exchange students

Disability support services for exchange students

What to expect when studying in the EU? 

Each year European universities welcome more exchange students with disabilities. And each year they are better prepared for the task. Even though there is still room for improvement, their efforts are really putting a positive spin on things: from architectural adjustments, through special counselling centres, to concrete inclusion strategies. We will show an overview of what you can expect and benefit from during your stay abroad. We’ll also present the top five exchange destinations for UK students and review the accessibility of their higher education systems.

Inclusive higher education: a group of students is studying at the library


Equal learning opportunities for all

The legal basis for most EU inclusive education policies is the European Pillar of Social Rights, proclaimed in 2017.

Its primary principle states that “Everybody has a right to inclusive education”, emphasising the crucial role of promoting accessibility in building a fair, robust and socially engaged community. 

EU policies and initiatives for inclusive education

Several policies and initiatives have been put in place to protect the educational rights of students with disabilities and to ensure inclusive education. The following schemes, developed and implemented by member states, serve as the basis for accessible higher education throughout the EU:

  • European Disability Strategy
  • European Higher Education Area
  • European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education
  • European Disability Forum (NGO)
  • Accessible City Award.

Accessibility at universities and colleges

Member states strive to meet the accessibility criteria, but rules and regulations may vary from country to country. For example, in some of them, it is a national law to make all public institutions (including universities) free from architectural barriers, while others prioritise academic support or digital accessibility.

Where to find country-specific information? 

At times, finding reliable information may be time-consuming and challenging. To simplify the process, we’ve compiled a list of associations dedicated to accessibility and inclusive education. You can contact them for more information.


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Austria Uniability
Belgium Autonomia
Bulgaria ATU
Croatia SIMS
Czech Republic AP3SP
Denmark Dansk Handicap Forbund
Estonia EPIK
Finland Invalidiliitto
France MDPH
Germany Deutsches Studierendenwerk
Greece Amea Plus
Hungary FESZT
Ireland AHEAD
Italy ANDI
Latvia Apeirons
Lithuania LŽNS
Luxembourg Pôle académique Liège-Luxembourg
Malta CRPD
The Netherlands ECIO
Portugal INR
Romania ANOSR
Slovakia Inklucentrum
Slovenia Društvo študentov invalidov Slovenije
Spain Fundación Universia
Sweden UHR
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Common adaptive measures 

While each university and department has developed solutions tailored to their specific student populations, some adaptive measures have become widely adopted. Below, we describe the most common types of support available at nearly every higher education institution in the EU.

Academic counselling services

Disability Support Centre: your primary point of contact. As it can come under different names, if you’re unsure, ask the main administrative office for contact information. Their role is to assist you throughout your academic journey, securing your equal access to all educational resources.

Mental Health Support: more and more universities have a separate counselling unit dedicated to promoting the psychological well-being of students. They cooperate closely with disability services to provide emotional support for those facing specific health conditions or learning difficulties.

Alternative assessment methods

Personalised support during tests and exams is one of the most used measures. It ensures that all students have an equal opportunity to complete required tasks and succeed in their courses.  Depending on your needs, you may request:

  • Additional time
  • A private, distraction-free room
  • Breaks during the exam
  • A change in format (e.g., oral instead of written)
  • A quantitative reduction of the test (not qualitative)
  • Alternative assignments
  • Adapted exam materials (e.g., Braille, larger print, digital, etc.)
  • The use of assistive technology
  • Modified grading scheme

As adapting examination procedures requires special arrangements, speak to your lecturer at the beginning of the semester to inform them about any additional support you will need.

Disability support services: a student is using a Braille computer keyboard.

Assistive technology

A wide range of tools, devices, software and equipment are designed to assist students with disabilities on and off campus. Assistive technology can significantly improve your quality of life in various areas, including:

Mobility: stairlifts, ramps, wheelchairs, walking aids, and adaptive driving controls for vehicles.

Communication and speech: text-to-speech software, voice recognition devices, braille displays, electronic braille notetakers, and communication boards.

Hearing and listening: hearing aids, assistive listening equipment, personal amplification systems, closed captioning of video materials, and face-to-face dual keyboard communication software.

Tutors, note-takers and interpreters

Finally, you might get individual assistance. If you need academic guidance or help understanding the coursework, ask for a tutor. This could be a member of staff or another student, depending on your needs. Note-takers help create accessible materials, whereas interpreters assist with sign language and foreign languages so you can fully engage in classes.

Vision and reading: magnifiers, Braille displays and printers, screen reading software, large print materials, optical character recognition (OCR) software, and digital audiobooks.

Learning and cognition: memory aids, reminder systems, note-taking equipment, and mobile devices with specialised apps.

Many universities have well-equipped and modern adaptive technology rental services, allowing students to borrow a range of tools and devices for the duration of their exchange.

Support services in the 5 EU destinations for the UK students

According to the 2023 UUKi’s International Facts and Figures, the top 5 European destinations for UK students were: Spain, France, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands, which received in total 55.5% of all student exchanges. Below you will find some important information regarding studying with disabilities in these countries.


  • There are roughly 20,000 Spanish students with disabilities, making up about 1.5% of all enrolled (2019-2020 data).
  • Most higher education institutions have a disability support office (Oficina de Atención a la Discapacidad).
  • State universities tend to offer a better range of scholarships and assistance for individuals affected by health conditions and learning difficulties.
  • In half of the student halls, you may use an option of priority reservation.
  • Other common accessibility measures include exam adaptations, class recording, reserved lecture hall seating, text enlargement, student assistance, and adapted furniture.

Special rules: 

Students with a disability of 65% or more can study at a slower pace and take more time to finish their degree.

If they choose to study at a regular pace and enrol in all their courses, their scholarships will be increased by 50%, except for the enrolment scholarship.

Useful resource:


  • The number of students with disabilities has quintupled since 2017 and now stands at approximately 51,000, which is 2% of the student population.
  • 85% of universities implement a so-called “disability master plan”.
  • Each department is equipped with an MDPH support unit (Maison départementale des personnes handicapées).
  • You will typically receive one-on-one tutoring to improve your understanding of the course or its methodology (around 10 hours per student).
  • Depending on the university, you may access additional forms of support, such as timetable adjustments, temporary computer or adaptive equipment loan, enlarged notes, a complimentary photocopy card, a badge for lift access, etc.
  • The most common alternative exam arrangements include extra time, a separate room, and adapted exam materials.
Students during a class in Paris

Special rules:

The kind of support you may receive is determined on a case-by-case basis. This means it is extremely important that you communicate your needs early on to a designated disability representative when registering for a degree programme on the online platform Parcoursup.

Useful resource:


  • 16% of all German students, totalling 472,000 (in 2021), struggle with one or more health conditions.
  • Counselling services are provided by an office called “Beauftragte für die Belange der Studierenden mit Behinderung/ Behindertenbeauftragte” (a Representative for the Concerns of Students with Disabilities) or “Diversitätsbüro” (Diversity Office).
  • Most of the university buildings, including lecture halls, libraries, laboratories, and cafeterias are designed to be accessible.
  • Many student halls have barrier-free rooms or flats.
  • Additional support includes scholarships, grants, assistive technology access, extended exam and assignment times, psychological counselling, and more.

Special rules and advice:

The Diversity office will provide you with an accessibility map of the campus that shows where the barrier-free entrances, lifts, automatic doors,  and accessible toilets are.

Look for a local Deutsches Studentenwerk advice centre. You’ll often find there a unit called “The Counselling Centre for Barrier-free Studies”, which is a goldmine of practical information.

Useful resource:


  • Around 2% of the student body, totalling 38,816 students, have a disability (2019-2020).
  • Before your arrival, contact a local “Ufficio Studenti con Disabilità e DSA”, which serves students with health conditions and specific learning difficulties.
  • A common form of support includes specialised tutoring services, mandated by Educational Law 17/1999. They involve collaboration with professionals, such as communication assistants or Italian sign language interpreters, and trained peer tutors.
  • Everyday student life is largely accessible, with features like barrier-free buildings, equipped housing, and discounted cafeteria meals.
  • Universities are obliged to provide compensatory technology tools, including e.g., speech recognition software, extended keyboards, voice user interfaces, video magnifiers, and text recordings.

Special rules:

Exchange students are granted equal access to higher education as their Italian peers. Consequently, they may receive the following financial aid: students with a disability rating of 50-65% get partial tuition fee waivers, while those with a rating of 66% or higher are fully exempt.

Useful resource:

Inclusive education: a group of students is in Italy

The Netherlands

  • Almost three out of 10 Dutch students report having a disability or a chronic health condition (29%).
  • In 2023, the Netherlands ranked fifth in Europe for higher education accessibility.
  • In addition to university Student Service Centres, ECIO (Expert Centre of Inclusive Education) is an excellent resource for support and guidance.
  • Digital accessibility is a top priority, which means all electronic study materials and online platforms are tailored to your needs and compatible with assistive technologies.
  • Many associations for young people with specific health conditions cooperate closely with higher education institutions. Reach out and become a part of the community.

Special rules and advice: 

Financial matters play an important role in planning your studies in the Netherlands. You may not qualify for the so-called “Dutch Study Finance”, so it’s essential to inquire early about tuition fees and potential waivers or loans.

Useful resource:

Making the most of the disability support– 5 tips &tricks

  1. Get in touch with a disability support office before arrival. This can help you to get ready in advance.
  2. Be clear and specific about what you need. Getting specialised support is more likely when your request is detailed.
  3. Don’t forget to check deadlines and individual requirements. Make sure your application is not rejected due to formalities.
  4. Explore peer support networks and extracurricular activities. Being socially engaged and making new friends creates a sense of belonging.
  5. Reach out to career services. It is never too early to start thinking about your future and evaluate the accessibility of the international job market.

Supporting students with disabilities: conclusion

No matter which European country and university you choose for your study abroad adventure, you won’t feel alone. The onsite support will lend you a helping hand for the duration of your exchange. Start checking for opportunities now and turn your dream into a reality!

Find out more

A group of students is studying together
Mobility with disability: guide for UK students
European City: photo of a cane along a tactile yellow line
Access City Award – Accessible Destinations in Europe
Outward mobility: a young man in a wheelchair is waiting at the airport.
Before You Go: Tips & Advice for Students with Disabilities
Study abroad for disabled students: photo of a group of students.
Study abroad scholarships for students with disabilities