Trinity Celebrates 10 Years of its Disability Service with Symposium and Booklet of Student Experiences

Posted on: 18 June 2010

To  mark  the tenth anniversary of the Trinity College Disability Service,  a symposium presenting research by the Disability Service staff on support for students with disabilities and a  booklet documenting the experiences of students with disabilities was launched this week.

The last ten years have seen the Trinity College population of students with disabilities grow from a very small number to almost 700.  Trinity now has the highest number of students with disabilities of all third level colleges in Ireland.

The Symposium presented recent research conducted by staff to determine best practice for supporting students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD),  Asperger’s Syndrome (AS), Developmental Co-ordination Disorder (DCD) and Dyscalculia. Trinity College is committed to inclusivity and aims to enable students with disabilities to enjoy full participation in all aspects of College life. Each student’s success is their own personal achievement.  To celebrate the many success stories, the Provost, Dr John Hegarty launched an anniversary booklet, Ten years of student experiences, at the event, which documents the inspirational stories of a number of current students and recent graduates with disabilities who, over the last ten years, have achieved academic success at third level.

Commenting on the important contribution these students have made  TCD Provost, Dr John Hegarty said: “During the last ten years many students, both undergraduate and postgraduate have fulfilled their dreams of academic success often overcoming significant fears, barriers and challenges to do so. The College community has been greatly enriched by their talents and abilities, and their overall contribution to College life has enhanced the quality of the Trinity experience for so many of their peers. These students have become important role models for their families, friends and future students.”

Services at Trinity are tailored for students with specific learning needs and include unique services, such as UNILINK, a collaborative mental health project with the discipline of Occupational Therapy and the DS3 project which aims to increase and support deaf and hearing-impaired students in colleges nationally.

Trinity is also committed to assessing the delivery of all courses and to ensure that it maintains the highest standards of meeting the teaching needs of an increasingly diverse population. To this end, the Trinity Inclusive Curriculum Project has been established which aims to ensure that courses in College are evaluated for inclusive design.

At the Symposium, members of the Disability Service staff presented research in relation to a range of specific learning needs. Research is focused on emerging student populations with complex support needs and all papers outline new support models to ensure greater retention and understanding of these student groups. Disability Service staff member, Declan Reilly talked on ADHD outlining the current approach used to support students with ADHD within Trinity College and explored future interventions which allow for great retention of this student cohort.

Alison Doyle examined the neurological, cognitive and environmental features of dyscalculia, which is a specific learning difficulty in the area of processing numerical concepts.   As part of her presentation, she looked at the nature of dyscalculia within the Irish context, with respect to the structure of the mathematics curriculum and implications for transition to higher education. The provision of mathematics support in third level institutions was also discussed, highlighting aspects of best practice which might usefully be applied to other educational contexts.

Claire Gleeson and Sarah Quinn of Trinity’s Unlink service discussed the unique occupational therapy approach in supporting students with Asperger’s Syndrome. A specialist service has been developed due to TCD having the highest concentration of this student group nationally. Over the past three years, the number of referrals for students with Asperger’s Syndrome to the Unilink Service has quadrupled. The service endeavours to provide practical support in managing the challenges and daily occupations of student life.

Trish Ferguson in her presentation discussed the difficulties experienced by those with Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) at third level.   DCD may present as any number of the following difficulties: abnormalities in postural control and/or fine motor skills; difficulties in learning motor tasks, such as handwriting and sports; difficulties with educational tasks, such as reading comprehension, attention and learning; poor time management.  She also considered appropriate interventions for students in practical courses, considering the requirements and possible interventions in laboratory work and placement situations.

Commenting on the research and the services provided by Trinity, Director of the TCD Disability Service, Declan Treanor, said   “Over the last ten years the Disability Service has developed policies and provided services that have encouraged and supported the inclusion of students with disabilities.  It is in part thanks to these services and projects that TCD now has the highest number of students with disabilities of all third level colleges in Ireland.  As a university, we are constantly working towards greater inclusion and meeting diverse student needs.”