College supports for students with disability

It is that time of year when students start to consider their options before the central applications system opens in November. It may be particularly worrying for students with disabilities as they question their suitability for certain courses based on what they feel may be a restriction.

They may also feel they might be more successful in securing a college place if they hide their disability. This could not be further from the truth. The DARE programme, which stands for Disability Access Route Education, is one access scheme designed to assist school-leavers who may face some barriers to participating in higher level education.

DARE offers students with disabilities who may not have reached their full potential in the Leaving Certificate examination access to college on lower points. It covers a range of issues from learning difficulties such as dyslexia and dyspraxia to physical impairments such as hearing or visual impairments to mental health difficulties.

Occasionally parents confuse this support with financial assistance. It is important to remember that DARE is related to reduced points only for, eg, a student who is 20 points short of a course could be offered a place based on his/her DARE application. This support is entirely separate from the maintenance grant. The first step in this application is ticking a box on the online CAO process which indicates that you wish to be considered for DARE.

There is no guarantee that students will avail of this possibility but applying gives them the opportunity at least for consideration. Additional documentation will later be required such the educational impact statement (EIS ) which is normally completed with the help of the guidance counsellor and special needs co-ordinator.

Evidence of disability is also a requirement. Part of the application is writing a personal statement which gives the student an opportunity to tell his/her story and the challenges faced. Disability support services at third level have grown in all colleges across the country, and higher educational institutes which do not take part in the DARE initiative often offer their own supports. It is best to check with each institute individually to see how it operates.

The following are examples of the types of supports available: an orientation programme to introduce students to university/college; study skills; extra tuition if required; exam support; access to assistive technology and training; one-to-one meetings with support staff. Candidates must however have a minimum of 300 points and the basic matriculation requirements for the particular course.

Whether students are successful or not in securing a place on the DARE list, if they secure a college place and have a diagnosed disability, they can be offered access to the academic, personal and social supports while studying at third level. Colleges can customise supports to students’ specific needs, such as study, assistive technology, note-taking services, learning supports and funding for transport. Also Ahead, Association for Higher Education Access & Disability is a wonderful source of support and advice for students and their parents.

It is really important that applicants make contact with the disability support officer in the third level institution they wish to attend. Calling in to see the college is great way to find out what supports are available. College can be a daunting time for everyone and it can be easy for a student to feel like the only one struggling with the workload.

However, there are lots of people students can turn to for help and support. Encourage your child to speak to the school guidance counsellor for more information.

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