Friday, January 22, 2021

University of Limerick has been allocated significant government funding as part of an initiative aimed at improving access to higher education for students with disabilities.

Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris TD has today approved a number of initiatives aimed at supporting students with disabilities to access and engage with higher education.

The initiatives, which involve 23 higher education institutions (HEI) and €5.4m in expenditure in total, are broad and are aimed at improving access to higher education for people with a disability, to improving college campuses and to assist staff with training and development.

UL has been allocated almost €340,000 under the scheme announced by the Minister this Friday, with more funding for the purchase of assistive technologies. In total some €600,000 has accrued to UL.

Some of the projects funded at UL include:

  • Strategic development of DSS student supports through an occupational therapy (OT) framework
  • Blended Learning Programme on AT, UDL and Accessibility in Higher Education
  • Captioning Outsourcing Project in Education (COPE) – Pilot
  • Exploring Best Practice for Hard of Hearing (HoH) students using technology in HE (joint project with TU Dublin)
  • Promoting Inclusive Mainstream Practice through the provision of Gaeilge and Irish English Text-To-Speech (TTS) resources (sectoral project led by UL and including DCU, NUIG, TCD, UCC, UCD, TU Dublin and MIC)
  • Developing a UL Universal Design Strategy

Speaking today, Minister Harris said: “College can be an overwhelming experience but for people with disabilities, it can be extremely daunting.

“These projects will make a transformational difference to people’s lives. For people with autism, there are autism-friendly rooms being established in nine colleges for when things get overwhelming. We are funding projects to make our colleges more accessible

“We will also fund tactile wayfinding maps, loop systems for deaf and hard-of-hearing students. Education is for everyone and people with disabilities need to be supported by their third level institutions

“Importantly, we will use some of the funding for training staff and hiring new staff to help students with additional needs.”

The initiatives will support the overall strategic development of disability services in higher education institutions.

The Fund for Students with Disabilities (FSD) aims to support students with a range of conditions and disabilities including sensory and physical disabilities, specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia, autism, mental health conditions and significant ongoing illness.

The scope and reach of the FSD has changed significantly over the past twenty years. In 1999, it supported 300 students. By 2018/2019, the fund supported 13,000 students.

Dr Alan Wall, Chief Executive of the HEA, also welcomed the Minister’s announcement.

“For many years now the FSD has been a key enabler in ensuring that students with disabilities can participate in higher education on an equal basis with their peers. It already provides funding that allow HEIs provide essential supports to students.

“The announcement today not only gives HEIs the opportunity to further develop and enhance these supports but also allows them to focus on the strategic development of disability supports and services. This is critical when we bear in mind the particular impact Covid-19 has had on vulnerable and disadvantaged learners and as we move to the development of next National Access Plan,” he added.