The Leaving Certificate is often referred to as a “fair” test: everyone sits the same test and is marked anonymously.
But fairness suggests an equal playing field, even though students from wealthy families can afford additional tuition and, meanwhile, students with disabilities are at a disadvantage in exams designed primarily for non-disabled students who Can think and write fast.
Indeed, for the past two years, the pandemic meant that students had the option of being awarded grades by their teachers – and it saw the benefits traditionally experienced by wealthy and non-disabled students diminish.
But there has been a mechanism to help level the playing field as well: the Higher Education Access Road (HEAR) is a gateway to college admission for students from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds, while the Disability Access Road to Education (DARE) provides an access road for students with disabilities.
Once in college, students can get help to help them settle down and stay in their curriculum. The University of Limerick participates in both schemes.
At UL, many students entering college through HEAR also participate in the Engage in Education program, which is supported by the Irish Youth Foundation.
Engage was started in 1991 in the Southill area of the city.
“When students in Limerick made it to the third level, they sometimes felt out of place,” says John Roche, project director for Engage in Education. “We run three programs: Nurture from fifth grade to the junior cycle; Compass in the senior cycle; and the four-year Engage program that supports college students. We observed that, if a student was living at a disadvantage, He only had aid or money if they were in trouble – but not a lot of support for students who were going to school and attending. Our program aims to address this: the more students progress to the third level The better it is for the community as a whole.”
The COMPASS program brings students to Limerick campuses: Shannon Midlands Midwest (formerly Limerick Institute of Technology) and UL’s Technical University, making it less of a foreign world for young people whose parents would not have gone to the third level. The program also helps them develop their communication and CV skills, mental wellbeing and resilience.
“We are allowing other students from Southill or Moiros to compete in a system that favors students at fee-paying schools that have a large network,” says Roche. “Hear is a good plan that some schools provide students with a low CAO score requirement to get to college. But we see students who probably should and shouldn’t be in the HEAR plan, because the plan details are always those people. are not given to those who need them the most.”
Chloe ** (23) has just completed her Masters in European Politics and now works as a Liaison Officer for the Erasmus Company.
“I got a SUSI grant, but it wasn’t enough, so Engage’s financial help was huge,” she says. “Through Engage, we had workshops on networking, CVs, study skills, and coping with stress, and I’ve talked to post-secondary students about their time in college and how it has helped me.”
UL’s access program was also a big help for Chloe: she had a mentor to support her and was given priority access to a few library books.
She says that mentorship is one of the most important guides for a child or young person. “It helps to have people who can inspire and motivate you to keep going. I’ve chatted with local elementary schools and it’s great to see 11 or 12 year olds already thinking about this.” That’s what they might like to do in college.”
*HEAR applicants apply through CAO. The online process will prompt applicants for proof of their eligibility, which is assessed based on income, as well as medical card eligibility, means-tested social welfare payments, a combination of socio-economic group, school and region is done. It’s a good idea to start collecting documents in January or no later than mid-February, as the application deadline is March 15, 2022.
* A HEAR application information session will be hosted live online on Saturday 8 January. see AccessCollege.ie for more information.
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Caolyn Kennedy, chief of disability services in UL’s Department of Student Affairs, has worked with the university for more than nine years.
“I’m also a DARE representative for UL and have worked with other third level and Access colleges,” she says. “Part of this role includes disseminating information on DARE to schools, organizations and the wider community. Before COVID-19, we visited schools and held sessions and clinics, but that individual element was put on hold by the pandemic. “
Kennedy regularly gives advice on how to fill out DARE forms.
“There are three sections,” Kennedy says. “Part A is filed online through the CAO with a deadline of March 1, and it seeks general information. Part B requires the school to fill out an educational impact statement, and Part C requires proof of disability, including medical documentation. These two parts can be complicated for some applicants so now is the time to start the application process. Part B and C should be sent by March 15.”
Students entering a disability assistance program will usually have a needs assessment. “At UL, this includes talking to the student – and, if they wish, a parent or guardian – about what supports have worked for them in the past, what courses they are taking and exam accommodations, assistive technology. What supports can help, including time management, one-to-one academic support, and more.
“College is much more than academics so we support students in their social and personal development, engagement with the college and their classmates, and we have learning support centers as well.”
Kennedy says they work closely with local services, schools and aid organizations. One of their main outreach programs is UXL, which consists of two different sets of nine students who come to the university for two days and gain exposure to campus, club, society and academic life.
Charlie Muloney graduated from UL with a Bachelor of Arts in English and New Media. She is now pursuing a part-time Masters in Technical Communication and Elearning.
“I have autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia and [movement disorder] Myoclonus dystonia,” Muloney says. “I applied to UL through DARE in collaboration with my school guidance counselor.
“At school, I experienced bullying by students and sometimes, teachers. I had to work twice as hard in school and college, and spend a lot of time on tasks that would replace the time I had for social life. Could eat. UL Disability Support Service was extremely helpful in moving me forward. Thanks to them I was able to get the support I needed such as one-to-one mentoring and exam support.
“I feel that I have a lot to offer to both society or employers, and with a few small accommodations, I can contribute a huge amount. I can use my experiences and abilities in technical writing or e-mail. I’m looking forward to working in Learning – which includes attention to detail, compassion and insight that works for people with disabilities – to help others. And I’m looking forward to working more in advocacy and giving a voice for those I am inclined to those who do not have one.”
* Charlie Mouloney writes Charlie’s blog TheVoiceInTheDarkness.home.blog
* All Universities, Technical Universities and Institutes of Technology participate in HEAR and DARE. Other third-tiers may run similar access schemes. A complete list of participating institutions is available at AccessCollege.ie,
** Chloe’s full name is with the editor.