Further and Third Level Education

Every year, the number of students with disabilities going to college increases. There are now typically over 3,000 studying at higher-level nationwide. 
Most Irish higher-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. 
College Application 
Students with disabilities should apply through the CAO. 
There is a space on the CAO application form to indicate that you have a disability. Ticking this box will have no negative effect on your application; the CAO will send you a Supplementary Information Form to complete and return to the CAO in March. 
This form asks for more details and information about your specific situation, which the CAO passes on to the colleges to which you have applied. This allows the various colleges and institutions time to consider and prepare for any specific support that you may need. 
Some colleges have a non-standard entry system, which considers difficulties that any student may have encountered that affected the CAO points they achieved. 
Students who complete a Supplementary Information Form may be asked for further medical information regarding their disability, or other difficulties that they have encountered during their education. Factors such as frequent illness, hospitalisation, and access to facilities and materials can be taken into account, and sometimes college places are offered to students with sufficient academic ability who do not reach the CAO points target. Not all institutions offer this opportunity; you should contact your chosen college directly to find out. 
Disability Support Service 
All third-level campuses are supposed to be designed to ensure access for disabled students. Most institutions have a Disability Support Service and a specific staff member (such as a Disability or Access Officer) with responsibility for supporting students with disabilities and helping them to play a full role in all aspects of student life, including social activities. 
It is advisable to call the institution that you wish to attend, and pay a visit in advance if possible, to find out exactly what support they have in place. The Access Officer may also be able to offer advice and assistance with your application. 
Upon registration, students are advised to contact the Disability Support Service in their colleges and discuss the equipment or services they may require. 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. 
Further assistance 
The Fund for Students with Disabilities allocates funding to further and higher education colleges for the provision of services and supports to full-time students with disabilities.
For further information visit: http://www.studentfinance.ie/ 
Funding for third level studies with a disability include: 
  • ESF Fund for Students with Disabilities
  • Back to Education Allowance
  • Disability Allowance
  • Student Assistance Fund
  • The Bank of Ireland Millennium Scholarship
  • Postgraduate Research Scholarships
  • CRC Research Trust
For further information visit: Supports in Third Level
It is important that students gather as much information as they can to help them with the transition to higher education. Other organisations such as AHEAD, the Association for Higher Education Access and Disability , the Centre for Independent Living, and support organisations for particular disabilities can also offer assistance and advice for students starting out in higher-level education. 
DARE - Disability Access Route to Education 
The Disability Access Route to Education (DARE) is an admissions scheme for students with disabilities. The scheme aims to improve access to college for school leavers with a disability. 
Under the scheme a number of third-level places are allocated on a reduced points basis to school leavers using the DARE scheme. To be eligible for the scheme you must provide evidence that your disability has affected your educational performance significantly by filling out the ‘Supplementary Information Form’. 
For further information visit DARE 
CAO - Central Applications Office 
You apply for almost all full-time undergraduate courses through the Central Applications Office (CAO). 
The undergraduate courses in the universities and institutes of technology include Higher Certificates - Level 6, Ordinary Bachelor degrees - Level 7, and Honours Bachelor degrees - Level 8. 
You can find more information about these qualifications in our document on third-level education in Ireland. There is no central applications body for Post-Leaving Certificate (PLC) courses. Students must apply directly to the individual colleges. 
For further information visit: CAO 
AHEAD - Association for Higher Education Access & Disability 
AHEAD, Association for Higher Education Access and Disability, is an independent non-profit organisation working to promote full access to and participation in further and higher education for students with disabilities and to enhance their employment prospects on graduation.
AHEAD provides information to students and graduates with disabilities, teachers, guidance counsellors, and parents on disability issues in education. 
For further information visit: AHEAD
Further Education 
Further education comprises education and training which takes place after second level schooling, but which is not part of the third level system. It includes programmes such as Post-Leaving Certificate courses; the Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme (second-chance education for the unemployed); programmes in Youthreach and Senior Traveller Training Centres for early school leavers; other literacy and basic education; and self-funded evening adult programmes in second-level schools. 
NLN - National Learning Network 
National Learning Network is Ireland's largest non-Government training organisation with centres in almost every county in Ireland. 
Each year, 5,000 people come to learn and study with the NLN, including many who may otherwise find it difficult to gain employment and to develop the skills to move forward with their careers. 
The organisation offers over 40 different vocational programmes which carry nationally and internationally recognised certification and are designed to lead directly to jobs or progression to further education. 
NLN also provide Continuous Professional Development courses, Assessment Services for children, adolescents and adults with specific learning difficulties, and a Disability Support Service for VEC colleges in Dublin. 
For further information on course and training centres visit: NLN 
FETAC (the Further Education and Training Awards Council) is the national awarding body for further education and training in Ireland. 
Programmes leading to FETAC awards at Levels 1 to 6 of the National Framework of Qualifications are offered nationwide by a range of providers in education and training centres, in colleges, and in the workplace. 
FETAC has made almost 750,000 awards to date. 
All FETAC awards form part of the National Framework of Qualifications - NFQ
Over 1,400 centres offer a wide variety of programmes leading to FETAC awards. For further information on courses and training centres visit: FETAC 
Distance Learning 
Distance learning is a teaching and delivery method of courses which enables students to gain education and qualifications online. It is a system that is gaining popularity on an international stage, yet there is no doubt of the stigma that remains attached to this learning format. 
It is clear that while distance learning is very suitable for some, it is not suited to everyone. Most distance learning courses are still 'asynchronous', which is a fancy way of saying learners and teachers don't have to come together at the same time, and the student can study when it suits them. 
Many e-learning courses, however, now have ‘synchronous’ elements however, such as online chat-rooms and instant messaging, where the learner and teacher can communicate in real-time, or with virtual classrooms where the teacher can talk to students situated all around the world over their broadband connections. This gives the students the opportunity to contribute in class discussions and well as interact with each other, albeit in a limited capacity. 
Some students taking distance learning courses travel occasionally to their school or institution for progress meetings with tutors, while students on professional diploma or degree courses often attend weekend seminars or occasional intensive series of lectures. 
It is a good idea to look closely at the school or institution offering the course, and make sure the award is fully accredited or recognised by a relevant professional body. You should also make sure of the full costs involved, and the support available, before you hand over any cash. If you get an unsolicited email offering a top class qualification at a bargain basement price, chances are it is a scam. 
For further information on courses and training centres visit: NIGHT-COURSES 
Whether you apply for college through DARE or through the standard CAO procedure, there is a range of supports for students with disabilities while they are at college. The supports available vary from college to college but may include: an orientation programme; study skills and extra tuition if required; access to assistive technology and training; and mentoring. 
All students going to college for the first time face challenges, and this rings 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 enhance your college experience.

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