The experience of students with disabilities at 4th level education

Principal Investigator

Declan Treanor, Disability Service Director, and Cillian Murphy, Educational Psychologist , Trinty College Dublin .


Research Aim

The aim of this research programme is to: 

  1. To explore whether students with disabilities experience barriers to participation at 4th level education (taught and research) as a result of their disability
  2. To quantify what these barriers are, if they do indeed exist

The objectives of this research are to:

  1. Assess common difficulties experienced by students with disabilities at 4th level taught and 4th level research
  2. Explore whether these are different to those experienced by students without disabilities at this level
  3. Consider what tangible supports can be implemented to support students with disabilities in participating successfully at 4th level taught and research



In recent years there has been a significant rise in the number of students with disabilities attending university. A 700% increase from 1994 to 2012 (Ahead, 2012) has seen a range of support services develop in response to the growing demand for access and reasonable accommodations.  Recent years have seen further change and diversification of the student with disabilities profile at Trinity College, with rising numbers of students with mental health difficulties and falling numbers with specific learning difficulties (see TCD Disability Service annual reports 2010-14). Furthermore, there are now greater numbers accessing the postgraduate level.

At the level of service delivery, DS members of staff have noted an increased demand for support from this student cohort. What remains unclear however is whether these students are experiencing difficulties as a result of their disability or whether these are common issues experienced by all TCD postgraduate students. The answer to this will in some ways dictate whether the DS can offer solutions to these issues or whether they are related to a more endemic college-wide problem regarding issues such as academic isolation for students at the 4th level, or lack of support from research supervisors.

Research approach

The research design will use a between-subjects method whereby students with disabilities are compared to students without disabilities in terms of their experience of the fourth level and the barriers they’ve faced in participation. Data will be gathered via an online survey administered to both groups.

Disability Service Strategy 2009-2014 phase alignment: Phase 2
Level of research: N/A
Supervisor: N/A

Stage of research: summer 2014, 3-month research