A Tribute to Patricia Kearney
Written by Ann Heelan, Executive Director, AHEAD
Patricia Kearney’s career spanned work in the fields of science and academic teaching career before turning her attention managing disability support services for over 290 students with disabilities and specific learning difficulties in Athlone Institute of Technology. They currently represent over 4.5% of the total student population there and to put it into context when Patricia started in Athlone, there were less than 20 students with disabilities in the college, (AHEAD Research 1998). Patricia did not walk into a ready-made job: she made the job her own and was key in evolving Disability Support Services and implementing Disability Policy on campus.
When Patricia became blind due to illness, she turned her skills and knowledge of working in higher education to the benefit of other students with disabilities of all sorts and developed expertise in the area of Human Rights and the inclusion of students with a range of impairments in all aspects of higher education. Her passion for her area of work came through in everything she did and her work went from strength to strength, developing excellent disability support services in Athlone Institute of Technology and highly innovative projects with Galway-Mayo IT and Letterkenny IT in the areas of needs assessment and getting supports right for students.
She was no push over though and could be very direct in her dealings with people, reserving her more acerbic wit for those who she perceived to discriminate against her students or those who were slow to provide support to students with different learning needs.
At a recent visit to the International Disability in Higher Education Conference in Innsbruck in July in 2013 she came back re energised saying that she had seen a huge gap that needed improving and that she must do something about the inclusion of students with disabilities in clubs and societies. This approach was typical of Patricia, who with her ‘can do’ attitude, took a strategic approach to the problems student might have.
As a colleague Patricia was great fun, always up for a laugh and brought her sense of humour to her job. We enjoyed her company in Innsbruck and my last memory of Patricia is her refusing to go home without one last nightcap in the bar and good naturedly calling us “a load of wimps” for attempting to slip away.
Patricia sadly passed away in September 2013 and her energy, warmth and commitment to improving the college experience of students with disabilities will be sadly missed. All the staff of AHEAD would like to send our sincere condolences to her family, colleagues and the countless students she helped across her career.
Rest in Peace Patricia.