Considering your third level options?
Every year the number of students with disabilities going to college is increasing, many of whom go on to graduate with first and second class honours degrees. Last year there were almost 4,000 students with disabilities and specific learning difficulties studying across all courses including law, medicine, arts, engineering at all colleges from Athlone IT to TCD.
So where do you start?
Most Irish third level institutions have modern facilities and services in place to enable students with disabilities to fully participate in their academic studies and a many third level colleges allocate a number of places for students with disabilities and specific learning difficulties under a supplementary admissions scheme called DARE – Disability Access Route to Education. This initiative recognises that due to the impact of your disability or specific learning difficulty you may have been put at an educational disadvantage. Applying to college through this route may allow you to enter your course below the points required. However, the entry criteria for this scheme varies from one college to another and you must have attained the minimum entry requirements for your chosen course.
How does a student apply for a college place through DARE?
The student can do this by simply ticking the box on the first page of the online CAO form which asks if a person has a disability or specific learning difficulty. You will then be directed to a separate application form called the Supplementary Information Form which must be completed and send back to the CAO. The closing date for completed Supplementary Information forms is the 1st of April 2010. Late applications will not be accepted. The CAO will then forward this information on to the colleges you have indicated a preference for and who participate in this scheme. Many students are anxious about disclosing their disability fearing that it will go against them but this is simply not the case. AHEAD recommends that all students with disabilities disclose their disability in advance as this helps third level colleges to plan ahead for the support needs of their students with disabilities.
What funding and supports are available for students with disabilities?
Upon registration, students with disabilities are advised to contact the Disability Support Service or Access Officer in their college to discuss any equipment or services they may require to enable them to participate fully on their course. The disability or access officer will carry out a needs assessment and then submit an application to the Fund for Students with Disabilities on the student’s behalf, which is used to pay for equipment and or supports that have been identified as necessary. The types of supports available include sign language interpreters, personal assistants, assistive technology, alternative examination arrangements and learning support.
Students attending third level have to deal with considerably higher academic demands than at second level such as extensive reading, note taking, and producing essays with no help as one is expected to direct and organise their own learning. Unfortunately, some students with disabilities realise that they could have availed of supports when it’s too late. For example, there is no use looking for alternative examination arrangements on the morning of the examination as these must be agreed and arranged with faculty staff and the examinations board well in advance. Each University and Institute of Technology has a Disability or Access Officer whose role is to support students as they progress through college. With the correct supports and accommodations the college experience can be an extremely fulfilling one for students with disabilities.