Paul Glynn | Senior Staff Writer
A quality review of the College Disability Service (DS) has raised concerns about the service’s funding model, its stretched resources and the implementation of College-wide disability policies, as well as with data protection issues.
The report, which was circulated to College committees last month, commended the service overall but raised concerns about the sustainability of the service’s funding model, noting that, in the context of reduced government funding and an employment control framework which inhibits the hiring of new staff, the College should provide core funding to the service. “The [Disability Service] is a core responsibility and duty of the College and an appropriate resource allocation model needs to be developed”, it said. The report strongly discourages the introduction of fees for the use of the service.
Extensive use of manual data input, “carries a risk regarding data protection and maintenance of confidentiality, as well as being time consuming and resource intensive”, it said. The report recommends the updating of Trinity’s IT services – which would help with inefficiency and would steer the service away from manual data input.
Because of a lack of a supported infrastructure – such as disability policies not being implemented properly across the College – the report raised concerns that the College is at “significant risk of not supporting students”, and warned that “potential legal action” could follow if a disabled student did not receive the support they were legally entitled to.
In particular, it pointed out that there was no consistency in the use of online academic platforms like Blackboard, and in the sharing of information about best practice for students with disabilities. The report suggests encouraging senior college officials to “champion” disability policies and adherence to the Inclusive Curriculum in research and teaching, as well as the purchasing and implementation of a disability module for the college’s central student information system.
In addition, the report criticised the physical space of the service, such as the lack of an appropriate reception area, the fact that the service’s rooms are spread out instead of in one single location and a cramped assistive technology lab.
The report states that there is potential for improved communication both within the service and between it and other departments in Trinity, such as the team responsible for examinations. Discussing such intra-service affairs, the report states that “in the context of on-going change, a lack of information seems to be impacting on Disability Service staff morale which could easily be resolved with clearer communication and dialogue”.
The report noted that the service seemed “stretched” at times in providing its services. It was suggested that some redistribution of responsibilities around College, such as starting co-operation between Unilink and the Student Counselling Service or delegating responsibility for disabled College employees to the Human Resources department, would potentially free up the service for students.
Despite a clear need for improvement in many areas, the review group were optimistic about the work of the service. They acknowledged that “given current financial climate and employment context, the DS has managed to maintain a good level of service delivery”, and also noted the fact that the people with whom the service was discussed were overwhelmingly positive about it. They also commended the service’s high regard from other College departments, as well as its strong contribution to national physical and mental health initiatives.
Declan Treanor, the Director of the College Disability Service. Treanor welcomed the report in an official response and said: “From the outset of the process, we considered the Quality Review as valuable in terms of objectively reviewing the Disability Service and its broad range of functions”. Treanor welcomed the many positive analyses of the service, while acknowledging the reviewers’ concerns for the need for improvement. Geraldine Ruane, Trinity’s Chief Operating Officer – the person responsible for the management of Trinity’s student and commercial services – also gave an official response to the review of the service. Ruane addressed the main recommendations of the review group and affirmed her commitment to maintaining the Disability Service’s high level of service and to addressing “the recommendations arising from the Quality Review and prepare a detailed implementation plan”.
The visiting peer reviewers included Dr Ian Pickup, Head of Student Experience at University College Cork, Ms Elaine Shillock, Head of Disability Support at the University of Manchester, and Ms Sheila Williams, Director of the University of Edinburgh’s Student Disability Service. The review was conducted in November.