Did the uni's interview process discriminate?

A blurred person sitting in front of a laptop computer on a desk. The screen is blurred too

Dan wasn't sure about ticking the 'disability' box when applying to university. Here he tells us about the issues he faced when deciding to mention his stammer in a different way.

I don't identify as disabled. Or at least I didn't when I was completing my UCAS forms last summer.

I had been one of thousands of sixth form students setting their sights on one of the most prestigious universities in the country. The application process involved filling out a form, preparing a personal statement and, if lucky enough to be selected, a Zoom interview.

When filling out the form, it asked if I had a disability. The question doesn't sound complicated, or at least that's what they must have thought when compiling the questions. Perhaps this is why people who stammer are so often overlooked. We simply do not fall neatly into a category. For me it would have felt disingenuous to click 'Yes' given my love for sport and my academic record, so I chose 'No' and swiftly moved on. The legal definition of 'disability' as being a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial or long-term adverse effect, didn't seem applicable to me.  

In hindsight, I should have considered this for longer…

If you're not acquainted with uni applications, candidates must provide a personal statement which universities use to assess their suitability for their chosen course. Students are warned that personal detail should be kept to a minimum. I wanted to disclose my stammer but was it relevant when every word was at a premium and, more importantly, would such a revelation prejudice my application? I decided to mention it by referencing my experience mentoring a younger student at my school who also stammered and was struggling with remote learning during lockdown. I was pleased that I had managed to mention my stammer in a positive light.

Perhaps this is why people who stammer are so often overlooked. We simply do not fall neatly into a category.


I was selected for a Zoom interview but that's where things went downhill. Being misgendered wasn't ideal but I survived. I was put into a virtual waiting room and was there for a long time. Being a fairly patient person, I waited. I continued to wait but the nerves were beginning to take their toll. Had something gone wrong? Should I log off and dial in again or would what might look like a lack of patience count against me? Would I miss the interview I had been anticipating for four years? After 30 minutes, I took a chance and returned to the main 'room'. The assistant acknowledged that a mistake had been made (the university later said they had been exceptionally busy with interviews that day). Not long after, the interview started.

I was led to believe that excessive preparation or practice wasn't needed. In fact, beforehand they even warned against formal or professional practice. Unfortunately this seemed a distant reality as introductions were followed by a probing question as to how far the state should intervene in the economy — not the gentle ice-breaker I had anticipated after my long and excruciatingly painful wait in a lonely waiting room. I started to stammer a lot more, which diverted my attention from the question I was posed, and I don't feel I was able to answer it properly as a result.


It is likely clear by this point that I was not accepted. I decided to submit an appeal as it didn't seem fair being a direct result of the wording on the application form and a chaotic interview process that affected my stammer.

A key takeaway is that I should have ensured the university was fully aware that I had what can be classed as a disability — even though I wasn't sure I had one.

The university claimed that the way I'd mentioned my stammer on the application form was ambiguous and not relevant. They said they hadn't noticed the fact that I disclosed it — they thought I was just talking about the person I mentored. So a key takeaway is that I should have ensured the university was fully aware that I had what can be classed as a disability — even though I wasn't sure I had one. If I had, they would have had a duty to ensure a reasonable adjustment was in place so that I wasn't at a disadvantage.

However, had the interviewers been well trained in all aspects of disability awareness, this would have highlighted a point of interest upon which I would have been pleased to expand during the interview. Further, when later applying to another university, their form came with a note explaining that many people do not identify as disabled but would be still be applicable, especially those with non-visible disabilities, and provided a link to the gov.uk page on the 2010 Equality Act. Surely UCAS and one of the UK's most prestigious universities should provide such useful content to all prospective students?
As for the interview, the university failed to provide any transparency or detail as to their decision-making process. I believe the crux of the issue pivots on what criteria they use to select their applicants. Under the Public Sector Equality Duty, as explained on gov.uk, universities must consider how their policies affect people who are protected by the Equality Act. Had the university failed to consider the impact of its interview system on those who stammer? Especially when it is well documented that stress and anxiety can make speaking more difficult. Was this lack of parity discriminatory?


I am still not sure I am happy that my stammer (which is generally well-controlled) classifies me as disabled, but it is imperative that universities take it into account when selecting people. Therefore, if any sixth form students are reading this, please make sure that the university you're applying to know that you stammer! I understand that Personal Statements on UCAS forms are being replaced this year, and will have space for people to add 'extenuating circumstances'. This could be an ideal place to mention stammering.

I sincerely believe universities need to consider how they treat applicants. The application process isn't a 'sausage machine' and there should be respect for all students so that it meets the requirements of the Equality Act. If the university had had robust procedures in place, I do wonder if I would be studying there now. As it happens I was accepted at a different institution, where I am happily studying.

It would be great if anyone else winding their way through university would like to share their thoughts and experiences too.

What can we learn from Dan's case? We explore the issue in our blog post 'A case of mentioning stammering on a UCAS form'.

If you feel that you've been discriminated against or treated unfairly when applying for a place at university, get in touch with the STAMMA Advocacy Service.

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A speaker on stage at STAMMAFest 2023

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