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AHEAD: Association for Higher Education Access & Disability
AHEAD: Association for Higher Education Access & Disability
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What Kinds of Supports are Available?

There are a whole range of supports available to students with disabilities in third level and these are very much decided based on the needs of the individual student. However there are common supports given to students with certain types of disability and we’ve gathered some of them below to give you an idea of what’s out there. It’s important to note that this is not an exhaustive list and if you have a disability, it’s not by any means certain that you will get these exact supports as they are decided on an individual basis in consultation with the disability support service.

Click the disability types below to see some of the common supports a person might receive drop down. Student who fall into these categories may require one or a combination of these supports.

Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students

Common educational supports include

  • Loop system: available in many colleges. There is a range of assistive devices available for deaf and hard of hearing students, and if you are not aware of the best device for you, you should make enquiries with the Irish Deaf Society or the National Association for Deaf People.
  • Sign-language interpreter: there is a shortage of qualified sign-language interpreters in Ireland, and consequently, some colleges may provide sign-language interpreters for tutorials and selected lectures, while some may not be able to make this costly provision at all.
  • Speed Text Captioning of Lectures: this service provides live transcription of what the lecturer is saying either to a large screen in the lecture room or directly on to a laptop in front of the student.
  • Transcription of audio-recorded lecture: this is a commonly used method whereby the student gets permission to record lectures and arrangements are made to transcribe the audio-tape to text.
  • Copies of lecture's notes and/or overheads: students may ask lecturers for their lecture notes and overheads. Some students ask for these before the lecture is delivered so that they can follow the lecture more easily.
  • Note-taker: a classmate or professional note taker may be employed to take notes for hard of hearing students during lectures, or may offer to make carbon copies of her or his notes for the student.
  • Extra time in Exams to complete each exam paper: the amount of extra time candidates may be allowed will depend on her or his individual disability needs. Standard amount of extra time is 10-15 minutes per hour.
  • Separate examination rooms and invigilators: this facility may be useful if the candidate is using assistive technology, or requires extra time, or is using an educational support worker (PA) or sign language interpreter.
  • Exam Spelling & Grammar Allowance: given by the examiner for poor grammar and spelling due to educational disadvantages that a deaf or hard of hearing student experiences e.g. English not being first language.
  • Video-recorded signed examination: the candidate answers the examination questions through sign which is video-recorded for transcription to text.

Not all colleges provide all the facilities listed above. However, individual colleges are striving towards best practices for students with disabilities. Students must, however, check what facilities are provided and negotiate for appropriate supports with the Disability Officer and/or the Examination Office.

Blind and Partially Sighted Students

Before starting college/university

Before starting college/university they should

  • Arrange a mobility orientation of the college/university prior to the start of term so they can become familiar with the routes to and from lectures, the canteen, the library, the student union offices, etc.
  • Arrange to meet the Disability Liaison Officer for a demonstration of the relevant technology and facilities available.
  • Check that their own equipment works and, if necessary, that it is compatible with the technology used in the college.

Common educational supports for blind and partially sighted students include

  • Priority registration: students with disabilities may be allowed to register early each academic year.
  • Assistive Technology: there is a comprehensive range of assistive technology that blind and partially sighted students may use, such as screen reading technology like Jaws and Magnifying Software like ZoomText. Text to Speech and Screen Reading software allow a blind student to browse the internet, read and write documents and perform other computer related tasks.
  • Alternative Format Textbooks: most colleges will provide blind students with their textbooks in an alternative format. Mostly these take the form of electronic formats which can be read using screen reading software. In some cases students will require books in Braille - be sure to notify your Disability/Access Office of this as early as possible as the conversion process is time consuming and costly.
  • Reader Service: access to course material as an audio file. Some colleges provide a reader service. The required texts are read and recorded either by volunteers or paid staff.
  • Recording of lectures: lectures are audio recorded and later used by the students to take notes or make Braille transcriptions.
  • Copies of lecture notes and overheads: these may be provided on request from the lecturer/tutor, and can be converted to Braille or audio recorded.
  • Time extension on out-of-lecture assignments: on essays, fieldwork, projects etc. Due to the impact of a disability a student may be able to avail of a deadline extension for assignments but they need to be aware that this can lead to an accumulation of assignments.
  • Use of a Computer and Assistive Technology in Exams: The exam paper is provided in an electronic format and the student can read and complete it using assistive tech such as Jaws Screen Reader and Kurzweil. For those with partial sight, magnifying software may be required.
  • Dictation to an examiner: person being dictated to should have a good working knowledge of the subject matter being examined.
  • Dictation to voice recorder and later transcribed: the candidate dictates to a voice recorder the examination answers which are later transcribed to text by college personnel.
  • A Reader: will read and re- read the entire or any part of the examination paper as well as any part of the candidate's text as requested.
  • Extra time to complete each examination paper: the amount of extra time candidates may be allowed will depend on her or his individual disability needs. Standard amount of extra time is 10-5 minutes per hour.
  • Separate examination rooms and invigilators: this facility may be useful if the student is using assistive technology, or requires extra time, special furniture or is using an educational support worker (PA) or sign language interpreter.

Not all colleges provide all the facilities listed above. However, individual colleges are striving towards best practices for students with disabilities. Students must, however, check what facilities are provided and negotiate for appropriate supports with the Disability/Access Officer and/or the Examination Office.

Students with Specific Learning Difficulties (e.g. Dyslexia)

Common educational supports for students with specific learning difficulties include:

  • Priority registration: students with disabilities may be allowed to register at an earlier time to general registration each academic year.
  • Reader service: some colleges provide a reader service. The required texts are read and recorded onto tape either by volunteers or paid staff.
  • Use of audio-tape to record lectures and tutorials: permission to record lectures and tutorials must be sought from the lecturer and tutor.
  • Assistive technology: a range of assistive technology packages and devices are available which are very useful to students with specific learning difficulties (dyslexia). The most common piece of software given to this group is Read & Write Gold, a program to assist students with spelling, grammar and project planning as well as providing a basic text to speech function. The most common piece of hardware is the Livescribe Smartpen which allows you to write key points and simultaneously record lectures which can then be downloaded to a computer
  • Alternative Format Textbooks: some colleges will provide textbooks in an electronic format which can be read using screen reading software
  • Copies of lecturer's notes and/or overheads: students may ask lecturers for their lecture notes and overheads. Some students ask for these before the lecture is delivered so that they can follow the lecture more easily. However, it is important to note that some lecturers speak from notes that are meaningless to anyone but themselves, whilst some may not use notes at all. Others may be unwilling for their own reasons, good or otherwise, to let anyone see their notes. Students must be prepared for these situations.
  • Notetaker: a classmate may be employed to take notes for a student who has difficulty writing, or may offer to make carbon copies of her or his notes for the student.
  • Time extension on assignments: on essays, fieldwork, projects etc. If obtaining time extensions students need to be aware that this can lead to an accumulation of assignments
  • Study skills and Learning Support: many institutions provide courses on study skills for students who feel they need extra help in writing and research techniques, spelling and time-management.
  • Extra time to complete each examination paper: the amount of extra time candidates may be allowed will depend on her or his individual disability needs. Extra time is allowed for poor reading and writing speeds and for some editing. Standard amount of extra time is 10-15 minutes per hour.
  • Invigilator/reader: The availability of an invigilator or other suitable person to read the examination paper to the student.
  • Use of a Computer and Assistive Technology in Exams: The student may be allowed to complete their exam on a computer with the aid of assistive software such as Read & Write Gold
  • Spelling and grammar allowance: this is given by the examiner to accommodate for the educational disadvantages experienced by students with a specific learning disability resulting in poor grammar and spelling.

Not all colleges provide all the facilities listed above. However, individual colleges are striving towards best practices for students with disabilities. Students must, however, check with the Disability/Access Officer and/or the Examination Office what facilities are provided and negotiate for appropriate supports.

Students with Mobility Impairments

Before starting college/university

Students who require wheelchair access should make direct contact with the college(s) of their choice to check how accessible the buildings are, and to give the college an opportunity to make the necessary modifications in time. Only a few of the Irish colleges are fully wheelchair accessible but efforts are being made by individual colleges to address this problem. It is useful to visit the college/university before the start of term for mobility orientation, as the first weeks on-campus are crowded and can be extremely disorienting for some students.

Accessible transport service

Students with physical disabilities who require accessible transport to and from college should contact VANTASTIC, a fully accessible transport service to people with disabilities.

Common educational supports for students with mobility impairments include:

  • Priority registration: students with disabilities may be allowed to register at an earlier time to general registration each academic year.
  • Personal Assistant (PA): colleges may provide personal assistants for students who require assistance during the day.
  • Reader Service: some colleges provide a reader service. The required texts are read and audio recorded by volunteers or paid staff.
  • Recording of lectures: lectures are audio recorded and later used by the students to take notes or transcribe.
  • Copies of lecture's notes and/or overheads: students may ask lecturers for their notes and overheads. Some students ask for these before the lecture is delivered so that they can follow the lecture more easily.
  • Notetaker: a classmate or professional note taker may be employed to take notes for a student who has difficulty writing, or may offer to make carbon copies of her or his notes for the student.
  • Time extension on assignments: on essays, fieldwork, projects etc. If obtaining time extensions students need to be aware that this can lead to an accumulation of assignments.
  • Assistive Technology: there are various hardware and software devices which enable a student with a mobility impairment who otherwise could not, to use a computer for reading, writing and browsing the web.
  • Extra time to complete each examination paper: the amount of extra time candidates may be allowed will depend on her or his individual disability needs. Standard amount of extra time is 10-15 minutes per hour.
  • Separate examination rooms and invigilators: this facility may be useful if the student is using assistive technology, or requires extra time, special furniture or is using an educational support worker (PA) or sign language interpreter.
  • Rest Periods: some candidates may require a break(s) during the examination.
  • Dictation to an examiner: (someone to whom you dictate your examination answers). Dictation may be used if a mobility impairment affects the candidate's ability to write the examination. Person being dictated to should have a good working knowledge of the subject matter being examined.
  • A Reader: will read and re-read the entire or any part of the examination paper as well as any part of the candidate's text as requested.
  • Personal Assistant: a student may require the assistance of a P.A. during the examination, however, the P.A. will be available only to assist with personal functions. However, if approved by the college/university authorities, the P.A. may also dictate answers.
  • Chair supports: for students who have difficulties in sitting for long periods.
  • Chest-high desk: particularly useful for students who use wheelchairs. A chest high desk provides comfortable desk space for the examination as the student does not have to reach over the desk.
  • Architect-type table: for students who have difficulty sitting in a conventional manner at a desk.
  • Good circulation space: students using a wheelchair will need a clear space around them, allowing freedom to move without disrupting others.
  • Availability of nurse/medical aid: generally available at examination centres for all students.

Not all colleges provide all the facilities listed above. However, individual colleges are striving towards best examination practices for candidates with disabilities. Students must, however, check with the Disability/Access Officer and/or the Examination Office what facilities are provided and negotiate for appropriate supports.

Significant Ongoing Illnesses Such as Asthma, Cystic Fibrosis, Epilepsy etc

Common educational supports include

  • Recording of lectures: lectures are recorded on audio-tape and later used by the students to take notes or transcribe.
  • Copies of lecturer's notes and/or overheads: students may ask lecturers for their notes and presentations. Some students ask for these before the lecture is delivered so that they can follow the lecture more easily. It is important to note that some lecturers speak from notes that are meaningless to anyone but themselves, whilst some may not use notes at all. Others may be unwilling for their own reasons, good or otherwise, to let anyone see their notes. Students must be prepared for these situations.
  • Notetaker: a classmate or professional note-taker may be employed to take notes for a student who has a difficulty in writing or who perhaps has missed lectures due to illness.
  • Time extension on assignments: on essays, fieldwork, projects etc. If obtaining time extensions students need to be aware that this can lead to an accumulation of assignments
  • Priority registration: students with disabilities may be allowed to register at an earlier time to general registration each academic year.
  • Extra time in Exams to complete each paper: the amount of extra time candidates may be allowed will depend on her or his individual disability needs. Standard amount of extra time is 10-15 minutes per hour.
  • A Reader: will read and re-read the entire or any part of the examination paper as well as any part of the candidate's text as requested.
  • Dictation to audio-tape and later transcribed: the examination answers are recorded for transcription to text.
  • Alternative Venue for Exams: for medical reasons a student may require an alternative venue for examinations.
  • Rest Periods during Exams: for medical reasons some candidates may require a break(s) during the examination.

Not all institutions provide all the facilities listed above. However, individual colleges are striving towards best practices for students with disabilities. Students must check what facilities are provided and negotiate for appropriate supports with the Disability/Access Officer and/or the Examination Office.