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AHEAD: Association for Higher Education Access & Disability
AHEAD: Association for Higher Education Access & Disability

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Top Tips for Students with Dyslexia, Disability or Mental Health Issues Making the Move to College

Are you a student who has dyslexia, a disability or a mental health issue?  Then you are not alone, there are over 15,000 students with disabilities in higher education in Ireland!  They are studying everything from Arts, to Health Sciences to Engineering. We here at AHEAD have put together this article to help you get ready to start your college career, you can also keep in touch with opportunities for free upskilling workshops with our GetAHEAD programme by registering here.

Get Organised

Once you’ve accepted an offer, familiarise yourself with start dates and get any paperwork you need in order. If you are in receipt of a social welfare payment you must inform the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and provide official documentation from the college confirming registration. 

Make sure you read any emails you are sent from the college! These emails are important because they will contain information about registration, paying fees, how to get your student card, college services, how to use the college LMS (Learning management system) contacting lecturers/teaching staff and timetabling.

There will also be very important information about the new learning arrangements while we are still practicing social distancing due to the ongoing Covid pandemic.  It is envisaged that many courses will be delivered through blended learning, this means some lectures and classes will be delivered online, while others may be delivered at college (pending Government guidelines).  Therefore, it is important that you keep up to date with current measures and adhere to college and Government guidelines.

Keeping in Touch/Orientation

Connect with your College/ Centre’s Social Media as this is another effective to stay updated about key information – do not switch off the social media feeds from them! Alternatively, regularly check the college or Centre website for updates.

All colleges have an orientation day, whether that’s onsite or online. This is where you will find out what resources are available to you and you can ask all the questions you need answers to. For example, how will I be able to access lectures if I am learning from home?

If you’ve come through the DARE programme there might also be a specific orientation for you to meet with other students with disabilities and meet the access team.

Find out what is available on the campus and make the most of the resources by enrolling with services that can help you make the most of your time in college, such as learning support, disability support services, assistive technology and counsellors.  Many colleges have Academic Writing and Maths centres which offer invaluable help and can help to kick start your academic journey.

Your Disability Office

The sooner you ask for supports the better, don’t wait until you are in trouble and stressed out with trying to manage the new environment, register with the Disability Support Service/Access Service, at the start of the year. (Being a registered student with a college does not mean you are automatically registered with their Disability Service; you must register).  They can provide you with a range of disability related supports which will help you keep on track.  It’s a discreet support service dedicated to ensuring that your disability doesn’t put you at an academic disadvantage.  They will customise supports to your needs such as study support, assistive technology, note taking services, learning supports and funding for transport. If you have a disability and choose not to register with the Disability Service than you can't get support from the Disability Service. It is best to register with them at the start of the academic year so you can get the support at a time when you need it.

If you’re attending an FET Centre (further education college) you need to contact the designated disability support person or the school Principal.

What are the roles in a Disability Service?

Explore the Disability webpages of your Institution / Centre to see the different types of roles. These can include a Disability Officer / Learning Support Officer and an Assistive Technology Officer and in some cases an Occupational Therapist. These roles support students in different ways so it’s good to be clear how these roles can assist you.

Be proactive.  If you have already disclosed your disability on the CAO supplementary information form, the disability support service will already have your contact details and they’ll get in touch with you to arrange for a chat. If you don’t link in with them, it’ll be assumed that you don’t want to avail of their services or supports. Plus, if you leave it too late in the year the funding may not be there to support you.

Academic Life

Get organised and be Independent.  College is not like school and the academic demands are different, you’re now in charge of your own learning.   If you don’t turn up for lectures or hand in assignments no one will come looking, it’s completely up to you.  Many courses are now modularised which means you are continuously assessed and may have exams every term so there’s an added pressure on you to perform from day one, so organise yourself – create folders on your laptop and download the learning materials that are provided each week in the college LMS (learning management system – e.g. Moodle or Blackboard or Canvas or Brightspace or Google Classroom) rather than leaving it until the last minute when you’re nearing assessments/exams.

Statistically, you are more like to do well if you actually attend lectures and classes rather than depending on the slides that were provided. You will be missing out on vital content delivered by the lecturer and class discussion.  Not attending lectures or classes means you may also miss out on information about assessments and assignments.

Take Notes. The slides provided by your lectures will not contain every piece of information you need so be ready to take notes in a way that suits you. Written notes using the Cornell notetaking method can be effective. Typed notes can be added to PowerPoint Slides in the Notes section. You may have an Office 365 account  with your college so use OneNote in Office 365 for effective Notetaking.

Other Services

There may be other supports like Academic Writing Centres and Maths Learning Support Centres that you can access, so check out if these are available and use them in a timely manner as they may be harder to avail of leading up to exam time.  Also, check out the library and talk to a librarian, particularly about how to access books and journals online.

Passwords. You may have a number of usernames and passwords to access different systems (Registration information, your emails, online Library and your LMS) in College so find a way on your phone, for example, to store this information in an organised and easy to find manner.

Have Fun!

Remember, college is not just all about study, it’s also about making new friends and having fun. Get involved in Fresher’s week and join a club or society, they’re a great way to meet people with similar interests and make new friends.  These include film, photography, sports, computing and chess to name but a few.  Perhaps there isn’t a club or society in an area you’re interested in, you could consider setting up your own.

Lastly, make the most of your college experience and if you need help, ASK. Staff are there to help and support you, but you have to ask them in order to get the help!

For further information about supports for students with disabilities in third level contact Lorraine Gallagher - AHEAD Information & Training Officer - email: lorraine.gallagher@ahead.ie t: 01 716 4396.

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