There was a 17 per cent increase in the number of students with disabilities attending higher education from 2017 to 2018, new research has found.
Some 14,720 students with disabilities enrolled in third-level courses for the 2017/2018 academic year, representing 6.2 per cent of the total student population, according to research conducted by the Association for Higher Education Access and Disability (AHEAD).
Speaking today at Better Options, a college fair for second-level students with disabilities, incoming chief executive officer of AHEAD Dara Ryder said: “AHEAD’s most recent research into the number of students with disabilities studying in higher education in Ireland paints a heartening picture, showing that initiatives including ‘Better Options’ are bearing fruits.”
“In AHEAD’s experience”, he said, “a number of factors are working together to create a more inclusive and accessible post-secondary education system. The implementation of the National Plan for Equity of Access to Higher Education, the success of the DARE programme which offers the possibility of reduced points entry for students with disabilities, and the increased use of universal design for learning (UDL) approaches are all helping to facilitate increased participation in higher education among students with disabilities”.
AHEAD is an independent non-profit organisation working to promote full access to further and higher education for students with disabilities, and to enhance their employment prospects on graduation. The Better Options fair, now in its 13th year, offers students information on the range of supports available to them to facilitate as smooth a transition as possible to higher education.
AHEAD has taken on research yearly to explore the participation rates of students with disabilities in higher education and has been for the past 20 years.
“Work remains to be done” for third-level students with disabilities, Ryder said. “For example, while participation at undergrad level is increasing, it is lower overall at postgraduate level. In addition, students with sensory disabilities have the lowest participation in higher education.”
“It is crucial that we as an organisation and as a society do not rest on our laurels and work hard to ensure the sustained inclusion of students with disabilities in higher education. I would encourage anyone with a disability who is currently considering their options for education – and employment – to contact AHEAD for information on how they can be supported”, he said.
Trinity is endeavouring to become more accessible to people with disabilities, installing concealed wheelchair lifts outside the Exam Hall and the Chapel earlier this year. Trinity is also exploring options aimed at providing wheelchair access to the 1937 Reading Room, the Graduates Memorial Building (GMB) and the Provost’s House.
This year, Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union introduced a professional sign language interpreter to its council.
The service is provided by Bridge Interpreting, a sign language service that aims to give the “growing ISL [Irish Sign Language] Interpreting body a support structure within which they can develop fulfilling careers”.
Last year, the union voted to support the introduction of a committee for students with a disability.
This motion was called for due to the increased workload of the Officer for Students with Disabilities since the introduction of a disability campaign week, as well as concerns about a single officer’s ability to represent all disabled members of the student community.
“Students with disabilities often have a unique set of needs that must be met for them to get the most out of their time in college”, Ryder said. “From concerns around accessibility and participation in academic and social life, to being properly accommodated during exam time, to stigma and misconceptions among their peer group, there are many reasons why people may be deterred from participating in higher education.”