If you have a disability, don’t hesitate to tell your college
College Choice: Support and access services should be contacted before the year starts
Transport services for wheelchair users are in huge demand so you need to contact them well in advance of the start of term
There are almost 10,000 students with disabilities in higher education, studying across a wide range of areas. It’s now a well-trodden path, so if you’re heading for college, and have a designated disability, even if you are not registered under Dare (Disability Access Route to Education), don’t be shy about making yourself and your needs known.
This is particularly important if you received supports in second level as you’ll need them also in third level. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking “I’m an adult now, I don’t need support.”
College is a very different environment from school. The academic demands at third level are much greater and, unlike school, you’re in charge of your own learning.
This means if you don’t turn up for lectures or hand in assignments, no one will come looking. Your ultimate success or failure is completely up to you.
Many courses are modularised, which means you are continuously assessed and may have exams every term. This puts added pressure on you to perform from day one.
It is therefore important that you link in with the disability support service, or access service, at the start of the academic year. These are discreet support services dedicated to ensuring that your disability doesn’t put you at an academic disadvantage. They will carry out a needs assessment and can make available supports such as assistive technology, note-taking services, learning supports and transport funding.
If you’re attending an ETB to take a post-leaving cert (PLC) programme, you need to contact the designated disability support person or the school principal.
Many colleges have organised a series of induction days for students entering under both their Higher Education Access Route (Hear) and Dare programmes. Attendance at these events is usually compulsory, and may affect your offer of a place.
It’s up to you to be proactive. If you don’t utilise their services once you register and start to attend lectures, it will be assumed that you don’t want to avail of their services or supports. Also, if you leave it too late in the year, funding may not be there to support you.
Once you’ve accepted your 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 Social Protection and provide official documentation from the college confirming your registration.
You might also need to consider how you’re going to get to college. Can you avail of public transport or will you need to organise an alternative, for example Vantastic, which is a subsidised door-to-door wheelchair-accessible transport service? These services are in huge demand so you need to contact them well in advance of the start of term.
If your chosen college is located far from home and daily travel is prohibitive, then you’ll need to organise accommodation as soon as you have secured your college place. Larger campuses with on-site accommodation usually have a number of accessible rooms specifically for students with mobility issues. But, once term starts, accommodation in or near universities is extremely difficult to secure and extensive searching may be required.
Always visit the premises before signing a lease or agreeing to rent a room or house. Sort out bills, agree tenant and landlord responsibilities, ask for a rent book or organise a direct debit payment method through your bank.
Ahead, the disability support service for students attending third-level colleges, has published a really useful guide to writing academic assignments, which you can purchase from their website: www.ahead.ie.
The organisation can also be contacted for further information about entitlements to supports.