AHEAD: Association for Higher Education Access & Disability
Creating inclusive environments in education & employment for people with disabilities.


Launch of Students with Disabilities Engaged with Support Services in Higher Education in Ireland 2020/21 Report

AHEAD are delighted to launch our report on Students with Disabilities Engaged with Support Services in Higher Education in Ireland for the academic period 2020/21. AHEAD has been researching the participation rates of students with disabilities in higher education for the past 28 years. 

AHEAD welcomes the steady rise of the number of students with disabilities in higher education identified through this research. In the academic year of 2020/21 students registered with disability support services represented 6.6% of the total student population of the responding higher education institutions. Over the last twelve years, AHEAD’s research has identified that the number of students in higher education engaging with the disability services has risen by over 268% (4,853 in 08/09 to 17,866 in 20/21).

This research has developed due to the continuous support of the Higher Education Authority, as part of their ongoing efforts to promote equal opportunities in higher education in Ireland. AHEAD would also like to recognise the consistent support of disability support services of higher education institutions who supply the data that informs this important research.

Get the Full Report »Get the Summary and Recommendations »

There were a number of key findings and recommendations which AHEAD identified as part of this year’s report which are summarised below;

SUMMARY OF Key findings

  • Increase of 268% in the number of students with disabilities registered with disability support services in higher education institutions in the last twelve years, now standing at 17,866.
  • A significant percentage of new entrants have a disability but do not disclose and register for support. Additionally, almost 25%  of new registrations with disability support services were not in their first year of study.
  • There has been a significant rise in numbers of postgraduate students with disabilities registered with support services year on year (33%). However, the participation rate of postgraduate students with disabilities remains low overall, at 2.8% of the total postgraduate cohort.
  • 85% of Students with Disabilities in 2020/21 received one or more exam accommodations.


"We are optimistic that there is great opportunity now to implement improved practices when it comes to accessible teaching and learning and an improved student experience overall. However, it won’t happen easily and there are many challenges ahead in capitalising on this opportunity." Disability Support Staff Member talking about impact of COVID-19

  • In the last 12 years, the number of students with sensory disabilities has grown by less than half the rate of the general population of students with disabilities.
  • 44% rise in the number of students with disabilities per support staff member in the last 8 years highlighting rising case loads for support staff.
  • Only a small majority of disability support services collaborate with the international office in the promotion of international mobility to students with disabilities, and the organisation of supports for participating students. Additionally, the majority do not collect data on participation in study abroad.


“The move to recording online lectures has benefitted all students, and the hope is that with the return to campus, that this will continue to be an aspect of curriculum delivery.” Disability Support Staff Member talking about impact of COVID-19


Summary of Recommendations

  • AHEAD recommend that the embedding of universal design for learning (UDL) practices is supported at all levels of higher education to support student success, equity and inclusion.
  • The over-representation of students with disabilities in fields of study with poorer graduate outcomes, and underrepresentation in fields with greater outcomes should be addressed with targeted national commitments, strategies and actions.
  • AHEAD recommend the HEA develop improved data collection efforts to track the progression and graduate outcomes of students and graduates with disabilities, to support the sector to orientate policy towards equity of graduate outcomes.
  • AHEAD recommends national and institutional action to monitor and increase participation in international mobility.
  • The HEA and institutions should consider how they fund and quality assure the provision of disability support services to ensure recommended supports are fully implemented.

Get The Full Report »

Get the Summary and Recommendations »


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The core funding received by AHEAD for its higher education activities is provided by the Higher Education Authority.

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