The attainment of a postgraduate qualification has been found to be a key indicator of a higher standard of living and a better quality of life. AHEAD research shows that people with disabilities account for only 3% of the total postgraduate population with many disabled people reporting barriers to participation (Participation Rates, AHEAD 2023). The Higher Education Authority (HEA), in recognition of the low participation rates of disabled people at postgraduate level, established the inclusion of disabled students in postgraduate study as a national strategic objective, expressed under the inclusivity goal within the Strategic Action Plan for Equity of Access, Participation and Success in Higher Education 2022 – 2028. (National Access Plan 2022-2028 | Policy | Higher Education Authority (hea.ie))
AHEAD would like to see more disabled people progressing to postgraduate. This Postgraduate Study page brings together resources, research and guidance aimed to help disabled postgraduates who are seeking to further their study or research and to build a disabled postgraduate community.
On this page, you will find information including, but not limited to:
- How to get started in your journey to become a disabled postgraduate student,
- Reasonable accommodations and your right to support,
- AHEAD’s contributions to relevant research and policy,
- Tips and guidance from current or past postgrad students,
- Events or recordings relevant to being a postgrad learner with a disability.
This page will be populated with more great content, tips and resources to support disabled postgraduates throughout the year.
We consider postgraduate study as referring to education awarding a QQI level 9 or above. A postgraduate is a student who has successfully completed an undergraduate degree level course at a college or university and is undertaking further study at a more advanced level. Postgraduate study can be a taught course or based on research and generally falls into one of the following categories:
Postgraduate diploma: Often this is a vocational course, linked to professions such as technology or librarianship. The subject may be different from the primary degree.
Masters degree: This can be a taught course or based on research. It typically lasts 1-2 years and usually involves course work and a thesis.
PhD: This is a doctorate awarded for a thesis based on research. It usually takes at least 3 years’ study and it must be an original contribution to knowledge.
AHEAD creating a partnership with disabled postgraduates
Photo: NDPAC & AHEAD meeting to discuss the development of a partnership between the two groups.
AHEAD believes in ensuring that the voice of people with disabilities is at the centre of everything we do. To ensure that the voice of disabled postgraduates is included we have initiated discussions with the National Disabled Postgraduate Advisory Committee to investigate developing a partnership between the two groups.
NDPAC is a disabled persons organisation (DPO) and is comprised of disabled postgraduates and early career researchers (ECRs) from across the Republic of Ireland. NDPAC focuses on and advocates for disabled postgraduates and ECRs.
If you would like to learn more about NDPAC you can email them at email@example.com
Choosing to undertake postgraduate study or research is a big decision and it is essential that you have all the information to inform your choices. For some people with disabilities, it is necessary to consider a range of factors to ensure that you have the support to enable you to enjoy and be successful within your chosen discipline. Based on our engagement with disabled postgraduates we have put together a short list of points that you should consider before beginning postgraduate.
There is a significant commitment of time and resources associated with undertaking a postgraduate course. It is important to be very clear about your motivation for deciding to undertake postgraduate study. These are some of the questions you might like to consider:
Are you doing it for greater employment opportunities, are you very interested in researching a particular topic or maybe you need to do it as part of your ongoing professional development.
Mode of study, it is important to consider what mode of study suits you best, taught or research, part-time or full-time, hybrid, in-person or online?
Funding your study: how are you going to fund your studies? Are you eligible for funding? Take the time to consider what funding options are best for you. (links to funding websites/SUSI)
Disabled students who are in receipt of disability allowance and who may be applying for research funding may also want to consider if this will impact on their disability allowance payment. (Link to Catherine’s Law). You may also want to consider the culture and accessibility of the institution and whether it is the right fit for you.
The UK Disabled Students Commission produced a very handy checklist that might be useful when planning to undertake postgraduate study.
Applying for a postgraduate course can seem like an intimidating experience. In the past, postgraduate students have sought guidance on course entry requirements, disclosure, interview supports, academic supports and much more. If you would like assistance in the application process or would like to discuss postgraduate student life or your support needs, you should consider reaching out to the Graduate Studies Office or the Disability Service in your chosen college.
One of the most useful ways of learning more about what it is like to be a postgraduate is to reach out to someone who is currently studying in that college. Contact someone you know or if you don’t know anyone contact the Graduate Studies, Disability Support Offices or the Graduate Students Union in that college.
Many disabled postgraduates report not being aware that they are entitled to seek reasonable accommodations to support them during their postgraduate. There is an emphasis within HEIs on developing and implementing inclusive learning practices. Institutions also provide a range of reasonable accommodations to support students during their studies, and they may vary depending on your needs and the demands of your course.
As an undergraduate with a disability, you may have received certain reasonable accommodations. You may be happy to continue with these or you may find that these accommodations no longer meet the demands of your new area of study. It is advisable to discuss the demands of your programme with your supervisor, then meet with your disability service and perhaps consider a revised needs assessment. It is also important to recognise that your support needs may change over the life-time of your postgraduate.
As a returning postgraduate who may have acquired a disability or chose not to disclose a disability during your undergraduate course you may now find that you would like to consider your support options. Don’t worry you can arrange an appointment with to your disability service to discuss how you can move forward.
For some, disclosing a disability can be very challenging. Fears of negative attitudes, outdated perceptions and past experiences of discrimination can all act as barriers to sharing what are very personal details. Institutions are increasingly more disability aware and have experience of working with disabled postgraduates. To access reasonable accommodations to support you on your postgraduate journey you will need to disclose your disability. It is important that you decide what is best for you. If you would like more guidance on disclosing a disability read our helpful guide.
Building a Supportive Community
We recognise the importance of community and how that contributes to a sense of belonging, combatting loneliness and isolation and supporting positive mental health. Over the coming year we will be connecting with disabled postgraduates to host several different events to increase awareness, support disabled postgraduates and develop a sense of community.
- Postgraduate Community Event taking place at the Power of Disability Conference, 7th February 2024, 12:45-14:00.
- AHEAD Conference – 20th and 21st March 2024
In 2023 AHEAD invited NDPAC to deliver the keynote workshop, ‘Unifying the National Disabled Postgraduate Voice’ at our annual conference. NDPAC members detailed their experiences of postgraduate and outlined what the group believe needs to be done to increase the representation of disabled people at postgraduate level.
- AHEAD Position Paper due December 2023
- PhD Support Review Submission,
- AHEAD/USI Submission on Disabled Postgrad Scholarships and Disability Allowance Catherine’s Law,
- HEA Summary Report: In February 2023 the HEA in partnership with NDPAC held the first national conference focusing on the barriers and enablers to postgraduates with disabilities engaging with postgraduate study. View the 'Experiences of and Challenges Faced by Disabled Postgraduate Students' Report on the HEA website.
- Article in Ireland's Yearbook of Education 2023 by Dr. Vivian Rath, 'The National Disabled Postgraduate Advisory Committee: Working for Change in Higher Education'.
- Making your Content Accessible,
Trinity College Dublin Forum for Disabled Staff and Postgraduate Students has also hosted a number of conferences and published reports on the experiences of disabled staff and postgraduates working in the higher education environment.
When preparing to undertake postgraduate or if you are currently in a postgraduate course, it can be helpful to hear the stories of others. If you’d like to learn more about the experiences of some other disabled postgraduates why not watch or listen to this three-part series created by the Trinity College Dublin Forum for Disabled Staff and Postgraduate Students and the AbilityCoop who talk to some well-known disabled postgraduates about the challenges they faced whilst undertaking their research and study and how they overcame them:
Part One – Mental Health and Wellbeing
Dr Vivian Rath, Dr Patricia McCarthy and Dr Emma Farrell discuss the importance of protecting your mental health and well-being.
Part Two - "I did it...Didn't I?
Reflections on my doctoral graduation after more than a decade." Dr John Bosco Conama
Part Three - Daniel Twomey and Dr Sara Kift
Discussing their postgraduate journey in two very different areas of research.