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


AHEAD Newsletter - Summer 2013


Universal Design: what is it?

Written by Ann Heelan, Executive Director, AHEAD

In March 2013 AHEAD hosted its 25th anniversary conference and dinner in Croke Park. It was a great success with an attendance from across the EU and further afield. The theme of the conference was Universal Design in Education and the most frequent question asked on the day was, ‘what is it?'

Prof. martin Bean, AHEAD Conference 2013

To answer the question I will back up a bit. We are all familiar with the ambiguous vase illusion, where you see two faces, but then your perception shifts, and, suddenly you see a vase. When AHEAD started up 25 years ago, students with disabilities were perceived as not really belonging and they relied on favors to get a support such as a tape recorder or notes. But thankfully, perceptions have changed. Higher education is a much more diverse space today and when you walk around any campus you will see many mature students, foreign nationals and students with disabilities and specific learning difficulties (SLDs). While this is very positive, it is also a challenge, particularly for students with disabilities who are often seen solely as the responsibility of the disability support services. According to the OECD repor[1]

difficulties arise for students moving to tertiary education because colleges fail to promote an inclusive ethos

Creating an inclusive ethos in education requires a change in perception about disability from stereotype to person. The perception shift for the lecturer is as unexpected as the ambiguous vase; it is to not see the disability but to see the talent and motivation.

Like the ambiguous vase, Universal Design changes thinking within the higher education community so that from the porter to the president, inclusion is everyone’s job. Borrowed from architecture, the concept of Universal Design means designing education to the greatest extent possible to be used by all[2]. Changing attitudes does not happen by itself and AHEAD works with staff in colleges to support them in engaging with inclusion, after all we know that most of them have open minds, but may not be confident in how to be inclusive. The conference showcased many examples of best practice within Universal Design which can be readily adopted into the design of any course. Examples of these are:

  1. Provide learning materials in an accessible format with regard to formatting font, size, colour etc. so they can be accessed using technology
  2. Provide lecture notes on –line to students before lectures, especially to those who are unable to hear what is being said or those who cannot take notes during a lecture
  3. Ensure there are a range of different teaching and learning methods/media embedded in the course so that students have a choice in how they digest information
  4. Keep up to date with technology that can make learning accessible
  5. Arrange for flexibility in assessing course outcomes with a range of assessment options that are valid.
  6. Ensure that all lecturers/tutors have training in disability awareness and understand the affect of disability or SLDs in a learning environment

Disability Officers: A Day in the Life

Written by Aisling Palmer, Disability Officer, NUI Galway

I have been Disability Officer in NUI Galway since mid August. Three other members of our team in Disability Support Services commenced their roles between August and November of last year also. We are all keen to create greater efficiencies so we can deliver an effective service to the growing numbers of students registering with us. Being my first year in the position, I want us to lay good foundations in our daily practices so we can spend more time on anticipatory work like promoting Universal Design for Education and working with the Access Officer in NUI Galway to develop a joint strategy for widening participation among under-represented groups. A typical day involves reviewing our practices and meeting with colleagues to build working relationships to promote inclusion.

This morning, I will be reviewing our registration forms and processes so we can reduce the time it takes to register incoming students, assess their needs and disclose relevant information to lecturers. Some universities have moved towards on-line registration; with a new database for our service, we are building capacity to achieve this too.

This afternoon, I will be meeting with the Vice-Dean of Student Experience and other Heads of Students Services. Education and the holistic development of our students are at the core of all our work. NUI Galway’s mission is ‘Learning and Leadership for Life and Work’ and it is one that I can easily endorse for students with disabilities. My aim as Disability Officer is to support students in becoming successful learners and highly skilled, employable graduates who can self-advocate and use technology to enhance their independence.

Mastering the use of assistive technology is an additional challenge for many students with disabilities who have much to cope with making the transition from second to third level. In my view, it is an investment of time that can contribute to their long-term success. In addition to technology, accessibility on campus is a particular issue for students with disabilities. To address this takes the co-operation of various staff in the University with access-related expertise. This semester, with the Vice-Dean of Student Experience and the Equality Officer I have been involved in establishing a Disability Access Team. The offices of Buildings, Marketing & Communications, and Health & Safety are among the team working to enhance accessibility on campus.

In fact, whether it is working with academic and administrative staff in the university to promote inclusive practices or working with colleagues in other institutions to widen access and participation, collaboration is central to the work of a Disability Officer. The Disability Access Route to Education (DARE) is a testament to the strength of collaboration among Disability Officers in Irish higher education institutions. As a result of DARE, each year more school leavers with disabilities are securing reduced-points places in participating institutions. The Disability Advisors’ Working Network (DAWN) consists of over twenty Irish Universities and Institutes of Technology who aim to promote good practices and consistency by developing national policies on issues affecting students with disabilities in higher education. We continue to work collectively to address issues facing students with disabilities in higher education.

Publication Focus- Building an Argument: A Guide to Writing Assignments

Written by AHEAD

Last year, AHEAD in association with Helen Carroll produced a student guide to writing academic assignments. If you are a student starting in third level education then you need to learn how to write assignments to academic standards. This Student Guide to Assignment Writing is a step by step guide to ‘building’ the assignment, guaranteed to improve your writing skills.

A Guide to Writing Assignments

In college, mastering the skill of good academic writing is essential to gaining good grades. Despite it being a core skill, it is not taught as part of the curriculum so students are often unclear about how to actually go about doing do it! Francis Bacon wrote in the 50’s “neither hands, nor intellect alone will serve you much: tools and aids perfect all”and it is with this in mind that we have produced this book.

This guide gives you the academic tools to improve your writing using the metaphor of ‘building’ an assignment from the foundations up. During the course of your time in college, we envisage you will keep the booklet and use it throughout your studies again and again. It is small (A5 size), will easily fit into your bag, and will act as a great template for every assignment you do.

The words on the booklet cover say: YOU’RE ACTUALLY A GOOD WRITER…IT’S JUST THAT NOBODY TOLD YOU YET. It is time to discover and enjoy your writing skills!

Visit our online shop and purchase Building an Argument: A Guide to Writing Assignments

EU project investigates use of ICT to support Learning for Adults with Disabilities

Written by Dr. Ian Pitt, University College Cork

An EU project is examining the ways in which information and communication technology (ICT) is used to support lifelong-learning by disabled adults. The aim is to gather information on the tools available and the best ways to use them, and make this information readily available in an effort to overcome barriers and increase opportunities.

The Enable project is funded under the EU's Grundtvig/Lifelong Learning Programme and will run for three years. It has 17 partners representing 13 different countries (three of them outside the EU), giving it a wide perspective.

The project partners are using electronic networking tools to review current practice, noting the ICT resources used in each country and the ways in which they are used. From this they aim to produce a comparative evaluation of the current situation in the countries represented, methodologies for evaluation and categorisation of ICT tool, and principles and recommendations for good practice. The intended outcomes of the project include an accessible website with a range of networking tools, a user-annotated database of ICT solutions with examples of good practice, online training modules for those delivering adult education, and recommendations for future research.

A conference on the theme 'Using New Technologies for Inclusive Learning' will be held on 28th September 2013 in Glasgow, Scotland. It will form part of the network's annual meeting and workshop, but participation is open to representatives of other Grundtvig projects and other projects working in related areas. For more information contact marion.hersh@glasgow.ac.uk.

The project partners will organise another conference in 2014, and it is intended that this will be a much larger event, open to all, and that it will be the first in a series of annual conferences that continue beyond the life of the project.

The Enable project partners are keen to hear about experiences of using ICT to support learning, either from those working with disabled adults or from adult learners themselves. In particular they welcome suggestions regarding ICT learning tools or technologies that could be added to the database, suggestions for training or other support, and examples of good or bad practice. Other comments are also welcome. Suggestions, comments, etc., can be sent to Ian Pitt at UCC (ianp@cs.ucc.ie).

The Enable project partners are Arhinet d. o. o. (Slovenia), The Association for Hard of HearingHe People (Germany), The Civil Initiatives Development Centre (Poland), Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (Italy), The Estonian Foundation for the Visually Impaired, FTB Research Institute for Technology and Disability (Germany), Hochschule für Technik und Wirtschaft, Berlin (Germany), Institute for Language and Speech Processing (Greece), JISC TechDis (UK), Macquarie University (Australia), RTVMC (Lithuania), Sogang University (Republic Of Korea), University College Cork (Ireland), University of Belgrade (Serbia), University of Glasgow (UK), University of Primorska (Slovenia), and University of Turku (Finland).

More information about the project can be found on http://i-enable.eu.

AHEAD Summer School for Professionals in Healthcare Disciplines Teaching Students with Disabilities

Written by AHEAD

AHEAD in collaboration with University College Dublin Nursing School are organising a Summer School running from 27th – 29th August 2013 for Professionals working in the Health Sciences sector who have responsibility for including students with disabilities in the Health Professions, including clinical placements.

The Summer School aims to open a dialogue about the inclusion of a diverse range of students in Health Sciences, especially students with disability.

The focus of professional health education programs (including nursing, medicine, occupational therapy and speech and language therapy) is to prepare graduates who are able to provide safe, competent care consistent with entry-level competencies and registration requirements. As the number of students registered with a disability continues to increase on these programmes, there is a growing challenge to understand what needs to change while addressing more difficult issues like the attitudes and biases that may continue to fuel stigma against students with disabilities. Generally, if a student has a documented disability, accommodations are mandated by law. The nature of some students’ accommodations prompts concern about their ability to meet program expectations and registration criteria.

This summer school will explore such issues, and review good practice both international and national, shining a spotlight on the continually developing methods of teaching staff working with undergraduate students with disabilities and should result in a clearer understanding about challenges facing professionals (both in the lecture hall and the clinical setting) as they seek to maintain standards while including students with disabilities.

It will be a unique occasion for a small group of professionals in healthcare disciplines to share learning, network and forge alliances for the future. The events will take place over 3 days and there is one thing certain – the summer school will give great opportunities to learn, network and have some fun!

Topics covered will include:

  • The Profession: Change and or Dilemma
    • Leadership – doing the right thing.
    • Fitness to Practice and maintaining standards in an uncertain world
    • The Law: a stick or a carrot?
    • Teaching, Learning – And Understanding more…
  • The Student: a certain or uncertain future
    • Disclosure: how to create a relationship of trust
    • Assessing the Need for Accommodation – a systematic approach
  • The Disability: Walking on Water
    • Mental health difficulties and the clinical placement: how to start the conversation
    • Dyslexia – so what are the issues really?
  • The Accommodations: do they really make a difference?
    • Assistive Technologies – what are they?
    • What does the future look like? Will accommodations shape the future of the clinical setting?

Where: University College Dublin

When: Aug 27th – 29th 2013

Cost: €390

Cost Includes: 3 day summer school, tea/coffee & lunch/refreshments throughout and 2 dinner/networking/entertainment evenings.

Accommodation: not included in the cost but campus accommodation is available at preferential rate to participants

Click here to register for the Summer School

‘We Can’t Go Back Now’ - An Overview of How Nursing and Midwifery Students with a Disability were Supported in Clinical Practice

Written by Dr. Phil Halligan and Frances Howlin, UCD School of Nursing

The number of students with disabilities attending third level education in Ireland has risen dramatically in the last decade and nursing and midwifery student numbers are now mirroring this figure. In 2010, four years following the introduction of the degree programmes in Nursing and Midwifery, a number of concerns were voiced from clinical and academic staff that support our students in clinical practice. Concerns included how to facilitate disclosure and provide support for students with a disability. In addition, issues of competence and fitness to practice were also raised and it was clear that staff were not aware of the literature indicating that students with a disability were no less competent or fit to practice than their non-disabled peers. In response, two members of academic staff from the School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health Systems voluntarily set up what became known as the Disability Liaison Team (DLT). The aim of the DLT was to expand and integrate the supports already offered to nursing and midwifery students, by UCD Access Centre and the Association for Higher Education Access and Disabilities (AHEAD), into the clinical practice environment.

Over the past three years the DLT has developed a number of initiatives to assist staff to support students in clinical practice. Initially, through a series of consultative forums; (dialogue with key authorities [legal, disability organisations, clinical, human resource management, and occupational health], workshops, symposium and a student focus group, a robust Resource Guide was developed in conjunction with a representative from each clinical site. This guide was successfully launched at the AHEAD International conference in March 2011 and addressed a number of key areas including: legislation, fitness to practice & competency, disclosure, the students’ journey onto clinical placement, student roles and responsibilities, differing disabilities and their reasonable accommodations and additional resources and information on obtaining further supports.

In addition, a number of other structures and processes were developed and implemented as follows: the design, implementation and evaluation of a clinical needs assessment, a review and subsequent modification of the student consent form to support disclosure, disability awareness training days and the implementation of the AHEAD Willing, Able and Mentoring (WAM) programme with nursing students on Internship. The DLT also continuously evaluate all supports provided and disseminate the findings and areas of best practice through national and international committee membership, and presentations at various workshops, seminars and conferences that address students with a disability. A workshop on Assisted Technology (AT) was organised for clinical and academic staff to increase their awareness of the various AT supports available for students with a disability. To prepare first year students registered with a disability for the real world of clinical practice, an induction workshop was held to allow students to voice their fears and any concerns they may have and each student was provided with a booklet specifically developed to address the many abbreviations and titles of health professionals that confront all students as they enter the new world of clinical practice.

To conclude, in the words of Helen Keller, ‘the best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched - they must be felt with the heart’. Thus, the DLT are committed to ensuring that all students registered with a disability feel empowered, learn comfortably in an inclusive environment and, via their encounters with other healthcare professionals, demonstrate how having a disability can contribute positively to the delivery and management of patient care. In so doing, academic and clinical staff will become more knowledgeable about facilitating disclosure, know what it means to have a disability and extend available supports to those who require accommodations on clinical placement; thus, offering a more level playing field for all students.

AHEAD Start – Online Course on Inclusive Education & Needs Assessment

Written by AHEAD

Last year, AHEAD launched an online training course for professionals involved in supporting students with disabilities in third level education. This year, with the changes to the administration of the Fund for Students with Disabilities for further education colleges, we are making a big effort to push this course in the FE sector. As an incentive for this sector the further education package costing €240 includes a free pre-term one day introductory seminar.

AHEAD Start will equip you with the key skills to understand the impact of a range of disabilities, develop a system that is in compliance with legislation, carry out an effective needs assessment and source assistive technology. The online course takes approximately 12 actual hours to complete and can be completed at any time during one of our six week terms.

Registration for the upcoming summer term running May 23rd – Jul 04th is open till May 21st with a pre-term seminar (for FE package only) taking place in Athlone Institute of Technology on May 22nd.

For more information and registration click here

Enterprise Rent-A-Car Offers Tips for New Graduates: How to Make Yourself More Employable

Enterprise Rent-A-Car team accepting their Gradireland diversity recruitment award

Car hire giant Enterprise Rent-A-Car, recent recipient of the Gradireland’s Diversity Recruitment Award and the Association of Higher Education Careers Services (AHECS) Engagement Award (2013), has set out some hints and tips for graduates looking to make themselves more appealing to potential employers.

  1. Experience matters Work experience and internships will often make you stand out. Employers know that a taste of the commercial world will sharply reduce the learning curve when you join the workforce full-time.
  2. Volunteering Unpaid volunteering highlights graduates with a social conscience and proactive work ethic.
  3. On-campus activities Make the most of clubs, sports teams and social groups, particularly in positions of responsibility. They help to build teamwork and leadership skills.
  4. The academics aren’t everything! Unless you’re going down a route where you need explicit technical skills, it’s often good to position yourself as a well-rounded individual. A good degree matters but so does everything else you did at university.
  5. Confidence shows Some people are great at writing CVs but lack interpersonal skills. How well do you communicate what’s on your CV? How well do you sell yourself? Do you say “I’m afraid I’ve only done this…” or “Actually, I’ve achieved this…”?
  6. Have you done your research? Ensure you know at least something about the business where you are applying for a job. A question that begins “I was looking at your website and wondered…” is a good sign to employers. Also, it’s often worth calling the company up before the interview to ask for more details about the job on offer.
  7. Professionalism It’s amazing how many new graduates don’t turn up on time for their interview or dress appropriately. Not every company expects a suit, but you should at least make the effort to find out about its dress code.
  8. Using your initiative For employers, the most promising recruits are usually those who really made an effort. That can mean everything from entering undergraduate awards and competitions while at university, to making the best use of your contacts afterwards.
  9. Networking skills Business is a social environment, so you will often have to demonstrate your skills at listening, making small talk and putting other people at their ease.
  10. Motivation If you get asked “Why do you want to work here?” you should have a real answer and not just a pat response. You might not yet be thinking in terms of a lifelong career, but you should at least know why you’ve chosen that company.

For more information about careers in Enterprise’s Graduate Training Programme, please contact Emma Ryan at Emma.L.Ryan@erac.com.

UCC Developing Accessible Campus Navigation System

Written by Dr. Ian Pitt, University College Cork

Navigating around a university campus can be difficult for visitors and incoming students and staff, and is particularly difficult for those with vision-impairments. With this in mind, University College Cork is developing a smart-phone app that will help people - both blind and sighted - find their way around campus safely and independently. A large and increasing number of visitors and new students and staff arrive at UCC each year, a significant number of whom are blind / vision-impaired. UCC's campus has a non-linear layout and undulating topography, and many buildings are located a considerable distance from the main campus and separated from it by main roads, etc. Like most universities and similar institutions worldwide, UCC has maps and direction-signs displayed at various points around campus, and maps can also be downloaded from the university's website. However, these are not always convenient, especially for vision-impaired users. UCC's Disability Support Service provides mobility training to blind and vision-impaired students and staff, but this training is time-consuming for all parties and is costly to provide. It is also route-specific: for example, a blind student who has already received mobility training may require further training if he/she is required to attend lectures in a building they have not previously visited. It is not feasible to provide this kind of training for blind/visually-impaired visitors.

A potential solution is to provide navigation data via smart-phones. The information could be delivered in both visual and non-visual forms (speech, sound, and vibro-tactile feedback), ideally using technologies that are - or shortly will be - widely supported on such devices. This would allow the system to be used by occasional visitors as well as regular users. As a first step towards developing such a system, a number of blind and visually-impaired students were interviewed. The participants included both guide-dog and long-cane users and had varying degrees of familiarity with the campus, ranging from new arrivals to final-year students. They were asked to describe the routes they use, to identify factors that aid or impede navigation, and to comment on general issues concerning campus navigation. They were then asked to traverse some of the widely-used and problematic routes in the company of an experimenter whilst discussing step-by-step the navigational cues they were using. Interviews and walkthroughs were also conducted with UCC's mobility trainer and other members of the Disability Support Service.

It was found that both long-cane and guide-dog users rely on environmental cues to determine their position. Many reported using manholes as route-makers, because each sounds different (silence, various degrees of water flow, etc.) and it is easy to distinguish a manhole-cover from solid ground when walking. Other environmental cues used by participants include the sound of the river, wind direction, crowd noise and even the scent of coffee from the cafes. Open spaces caused most difficulty when navigating. For example, the Honan Plaza, a large, open area with little variation in terrain and few distinctive sources of sound, posed major problems to long-cane users and could only be navigated by guide-dog users if the dog was familiar with the route. Having identified user requirements, potential commercial solutions were examined, but no off-the-shelf system fully met UCC's requirements. Some offered speech output but with little control, making them difficult to use whilst also listening for environmental cues. Other problems included the difficulty of using devices in conjunction with other mobility aids (guide-dog, long cane), no information on terrain, poor accuracy or reliability in determining position (particularly indoors), and high power drain/short battery life. In the light of these findings, UCC is developing its own iPhone / Android application that offers comprehensive but highly controllable feedback, low-power drain, and - when the necessary infrastructure is in place - accurate and reliable navigation both indoors and out.

The user interface has been designed with both guide-dog and long-cane users in mind. It offers three audio feedback options - simple audio, speech, and spatial audio. Users can select combinations of these options to suit their needs. Haptic Feedback is also available, providing varying levels of pulsed vibrations to indicate key features, areas of campus, etc.. Voice commands and limited touch functionality allow users to ask for directions to specific places, details of places already visited, etc. Visual maps are provided for sighted users. Other features of the user interface include:

  • ‘You are Here’ facility to inform the system user of their exact location on campus at the time requested
  • ‘Route’ marking facility to explain to the user the best route from their current location or a particular building to their required destination
  • ‘Near me’ facility to allow users to find services on campus
  • ‘Orientation’ facility, based on compass feedback, to aid users should they become disorientated while on campus

The system uses either GPS (Global Positioning System) or Bluetooth technology to determine position. GPS is widely supported on smart-phones and thus offers a low-cost solution, but its accuracy (around 10 metres) is often insufficient to allow blind and vision-impaired users to navigate independently. Greater accuracy could be achieved by using radio beacons: the plan is to install a number of Ultra Low Power (ULP) Bluetooth beacons at key points along routes, allowing accurate positioning both indoors and out.

The results of the requirements-gathering process and the review of candidate technologies were described in a presentation given on 30th May 2012 at a conference on Access to Historical Building and Spaces organised by the National Disability Authority, Ireland (http://www.nda.ie/website/nda/cntmgmtnew.nsf/0/413FD714E7B4AC4080257A220…). Further details of the project and the results of initial user-testing were presented at the ICCHP 2012 conference (http://www.icchp.org/).

Assistive Technology Summer Camp in Athlone IT

Written by Athlone Institute of Technology

In July 2012, the Disability & Learning Support Service in Athlone Institute of Technology ran an Interactive Assistive Technology (AT) summer camp for students with dyslexia and/or dyspraxia.

The resources and AT training for this week long camp were aimed at young people from 9-16 years with specific learning difficulties and focused on areas such as reading and writing.

In addition to camp activities aimed at students, a number of activities aimed at parents and teachers took place on the Monday and Friday. These included talks on assistive technology in education given by tutors and trainers at 3rd level and also by students about their own experiences. An AT exhibition was hosted on the Friday.

The course was heavily subscribed, with 34 participants divided into a junior, intermediate and senior group. All who participated gained confidence through the experience of how learning with computers can be fun. It gave students the knowledge and understanding of how assistive technologies can be used as an effective tool for reading and writing.

AT training included: Text Help Read Write Gold, Clicker 6 (writing, language and literacy support software), Inspiration and Kidspiration mind mapping, computer games to aid literacy and maths learning, digital pen technologies, iPad, tablet and phone technologies.

The Disability & Learning Support Service Coordinator Patricia Kearney stated that “Our experience at AIT has been that use of assistive technologies is a major boost to our students’ self-confidence and learning. The summer camp is an opportunity to share these facilities and our expertise with the wider community”.

This year the summer camp will be divided into 2 sessions held over 2 weeks. The camp for students at 2nd level will be held over 3 days (25th – 27th June) and will facilitate students aged between 12 and 17 years. The camp for primary level will be for 6th class students aged 12 years who are transferring into 2nd level and will run for 3 days (2nd – 4th July 2013).

AHEAD in the News

Written by AHEAD

Earlier this year, AHEAD celebrated it’s 25th birthday and to mark the occasion, we produced a book of stories from 25 disabled graduates, one from every graduation year from 1988 to the present. They are tales of people overcoming barriers to forge successful careers and reflected in this beautiful book including, stunning photo portraits, is the story of a modernising Ireland and the blooming of AHEAD as strong and positive force in changing attitudes to students with disabilities in Ireland. On May 14th, The Irish Times produced a story about AHEAD and some of the graduates featured in this publication. If you would like to see the Irish Times feature more about AHEAD and about students/graduates with disabilities, why not email education@irishtimes.com and tell them you enjoyed it.

View the story on the Irish Times site

Student Perspectives

My Story: Ger Gallagher

My name is Ger Gallagher and I am a postgrad student in UCD. I’m writing this article as a student with a disability. I have cerebral palsy. This has resulted in limited mobility, and as a result I now use a mobility scooter on a full time basis. I also have dyslexia this has meant that as well as physical barriers I have had to learn and study different ways throughout my time in education. I have had a different and somewhat challenging journey through the Irish education system

Ger Gallagher

I’m currently studying for a Masters in Equality Studies in UCD. Its available full time and part time but I’m doing it full time. It’s fascinating and has really challenged me personally. I did my undergrad in UCD as well (Social Science) so I know UCD pretty well, but I did take a year out after my undergrad and worked as Equality officer in the Union of Students in Ireland. So it’s been really interesting coming back after the year working, in this area, to study it in more depth. I love studying but I am looking forward to being finished after this! College opened so many doors for me. As a student with disability I can honestly say that progressing to third level education was the best thing I have ever done.

Primary and secondary level school was a massive learning curve, with many challenges. So when it came to third level I had already learned that preparation is the key. It is for this reason that I took my time to first choose the course which I wanted to study. After I had decided on my chosen course and college I decided to get in touch with the Disability Support Service in UCD to arrange a meeting prior to filling out my CAO form. This was a fantastic decision as I got loads of information on the supports available in UCD and also the DARE scheme (Disability Access Route Higher Education. This meant that I was able to focus on my Leaving Certificate safe in the knowledge that I would get the supports I needed once I got to third level.

After I got my exam results I was offered my place in UCD. As I ticked the box acknowledging my disability on the CAO form, the DSS in UCD were aware that I needed supports. As such I organized an appointment with them so that a needs assessment could be carried out by them. This was self directed so I had the opportunity to decide what support I availed of.

I began with a full time Personal Assistant and Notetaker. I also had a laptop provided which had assistive technology installed on it which was chosen for my specific needs. Over the following three years I customized these support to better suit my needs and reduced the number of PA hours which I had. I also availed of extra tuition and the extended loan service in our library. For my masters, I use a PA for about 5 – 6 hours a week, text to speech software and voice recognition software and extended loans in the Library and that’s it. It’s what I’ve found to work best for me.

There is also much more to college life than the academic side of things! It was with this in mind that I decided to live on campus for my first two years of college life. This was great for my independence; it also gave me the freedom I needed to grow up. I live student life to the full (though not right now, as I’m trying to complete my final assignments!) and living on campus certainly helped with that. Getting involved in student politics and student societies & sports was also a huge part of my third level experience and one I’d highly recommend. I became Auditor of the Inclusion Participation Awareness Society in UCD and I later became in involved in the national student movement as both disability officer and then Equality officer.

To those of you thinking of beginning third level education, simply, go for it! It really is a life changing experience. Secondly always remember that we will all face tough days from time to time but remember that help is at hand when you ask for it.

Case Study: Niall O’Hanlon, Mature Student, University College Dublin

What are you studying and where? Certificate in Occupational Health and Safety Management, University College Dublin

Full time/part time course? It’s a course offered by UCD to ESB staff and it’s a quite intensive part time course with a twist. It takes place over 5 months. One day in college per month is supplemented with four 30 minute online lectures per week, related reading material, monthly exams & assignments, and a big final project.

What did you do when you left school? I worked in a jewellery shop fixing digital watches (yes, we used to fix them, now we just throw them away!), jewellery etc.

What was your motivation for returning to study as a mature student? I work in the area of Health & Safety for the ESB and when the opportunity arose this year, I jumped at it.

What are the challenges for you as a mature student? Finding the time to study is a huge one.Balancing work with family life is difficult enough without adding in study time but if you plan well it’s manageable. Also, being so long since I first left college, readjusting to academic study has been a challenge. As a disabled student there are more things to think about - ensuring the days spent in college are in accessible locations and that there are nearby accessible toilets etc.

What are you enjoying about the course, student life? I’m really enjoying studying again, writing assignments and gaining a better understanding of Health & Safety. It’s also great to meet new people, gain new perspectives.

What advice would you give to anyone thinking of doing a course as a mature entrant or returning to education? Be prepared to be exhausted!Make sure you have your family on board with you as studying takes up a huge amount of your spare time. Understanding Relatives/Partner is essential.As a disabled Student, do your research on the college before you start regarding parking, location of lecture halls, toilets etc. I visited the UCD Access Officer and got very good advice re accessibility – you should too.

[1]Inclusion of Students with Disabilities in tertiary Education and Employment, OECD, 2011

[2]Inclusive College Teaching: Universal design for instruction and diverse learners, Joan McGuire, AHEAD Conference 2013.

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Creating Inclusive Environments in Education and Employment for People with Disabilities

East Hall, UCD, Carysfort Avenue, Blackrock, Co Dublin.
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