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Every year, the number of students with disabilities going to college increases – last year there were over 5, 000 studying at third level nationwide. Most Irish third level institutions have modern facilities and services in place to enable students with disabilities to play a full role in the Irish higher education system. The Equal Status Act of 2000 prohibits colleges from discriminating in any way against students on the basis of disability. This applies to all educational institutions, both public and private. If you have a disability, your first concern should be to decide upon the subjects that interest you and the higher education courses for which to apply. Once you have this decided, you can then investigate the kind of disability support that individual institutions provide.

Students with disabilities apply through the CAO. However, there is a space on the CAO application form to indicate that you have a disability. Disclosing that you have a disability will not have a negative effect on your application. This allows the various colleges and institutions time to consider and prepare for any specific support that you may need. Students who indicate that they have a disability will also be directed to a separate online application form called a Supplementary Information Form. Completion of this form allows students with disabilities or specific learning difficulties to be considered for a supplementary admissions scheme called DARE – Disability Access Route to Education which operates in a number of Higher Education Institutions. This scheme considers difficulties that a student with a disability or specific learning difficulty may have encountered in secondary school due to the impact of their impairment. An eligible DARE applicant may be able to enter their chosen course at slightly below the standard CAO points requirement, but they must still matriculate and have the core subject requirements for their chosen area of study. Factors such as frequent illness, hospitalisation and access to facilities and materials can be taken into account. This scheme is not open to mature students. To find out which colleges support DARE and for further information about this scheme check out http://www. accesscollege. ie

All third level campuses have designated support staff for students with disabilities known as Disability or Access Officers with responsibility for supporting students with disabilities and helping them to play a full role in all aspects of student life. It is advisable to call the institution that you wish to attend – and pay a visit in advance if possible, particularly if you have a mobility impairment, to find out exactly how accessible the campus is and what supports they have in place.

Upon registration, students are advised to contact the Disability Support Service or Access Office in college to discuss any equipment or services they may require to enable them to partake in their studies. Different students will have different requirements, but examples include full-time or part-time assistants, assistive technology (examples include audio recorders for lectures and voice recognition software for typing essays) and help with getting to and from college.

Funding for these supports is available from the Higher Education Authorities Fund for Students with Disabilities. This fund is available to full-time undergraduate students with a physical, sensory, or specific learning disability such as dyslexia. It is not intended to cover other costs such as food, books or study materials. There is an application process and students must provide evidence of their disability or specific learning difficulty. Your institution’s Disability Support Service or Access Office will carry out a needs assessment to ascertain exactly what supports you need and apply to the fund on your behalf; no money will actually be given to you. Students attending private colleges are not eligible for the Fund for Students with Disabilities; however private colleges are legally obliged to support students with disabilities, subject to nominal cost.

There are some specific scholarship schemes in place to help students with a disability to participate in higher-level education. One example is the Bank of Ireland Millennium Scholars Trust. The Disability Support Service at each institution can help with advice. Students may also be eligible for the disability allowance and local authority maintenance grant. For further information about grants visit www. studentfinance. ie

It is important that students gather as much information as they can to help them with the transition to higher education. Organisations such as AHEAD, Association for Higher Education Access and Disability (www. ahead. ie) Tel: 01 7164396;  The Centre for Independent Living, and support organisations for particular disabilities can also offer assistance and advice for students starting out in third level education.

All students going to college for the first time face challenges, and this is especially true for students with disabilities. However, being aware of your rights and taking full advantage of all the support and services available to you should make your college experience a thoroughly enjoyable one. is a national database of universities, colleges, institutes and providers of third level and PLC courses in Ireland. We operate a national search database of courses at certificate, diploma and degree level as well as providing information about career paths and directions.
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