The new part time study places for unemployed graduates outlined in today’s Irish Times has made absolutely no provision for unemployed graduates with a disability. Currently there are over 4,000 students with disabilities in HEI courses who are graduating and looking for employment opportunities like everyone else. Students with disabilities on full time courses can avail of a Fund for Students with Disabilities operated by the National Access Office within the HEA. This fund provides significant additional funding for supports vital for the student if they are to make a go of it, for example, an interpreter for a deaf student, or computer technology to allow a blind student to read and write. It also covers the cost of a personal assistant for a person with a mobility problem or for technology and additional study support for a student with dyslexia.
However, as this fund is not open to disabled graduates applying to this part time scheme, then if they need supports to deal with their disability then they are stuck, they are excluded from taking part.
It is difficult to understand the reasoning behind this as the Department of Education and Science recognises clearly that these supports are a vital to the disabled student, without them they cannot take part and what is more, they are entitled to them under Equality Legislation. Providing supports does not give the student any advantage, merely gives the disabled student a means to deal with the course, to read the materials, write the assignments and navigate the campus, in other words to do what every other student does.
Without this additional funding, many disabled graduates probably would not be accepted on to the course as the college could not afford the additional expenses involved e.g. paying an interpreter etc can add up to over 5,000 on a part time course. If they did make it in the door, then they would experience severe difficulties studying on the course without the additional supports they had as an under graduate student, in all likely hood, they would simply drop out.
According to the NDA 80% of people with disabilities are unemployed and AHEAD is aware that graduates with disabilities are more likely to be unemployed than other graduates, even in the boom years. Many disabled graduates want to benefit from this great opportunity to gain further qualifications, improve their employment skills and contribute to “the smart economy”, but without adequate provision for supports on these courses, unfortunately they will go to the back of yet another queue.
Why should a graduate with a disability be ineligible for funding for vital supports to do a course just because he/she is studying part time, this is discrimination and excludes graduates with disabilities from this scheme and the opportunities accruing.