Monday 26 September 2016

Visually impaired student dedicates her degree to Special Needs Assistants– ‘I would not have finished primary school without the help of my SNA’

Published 24/02/2016 | 10:25

Jessica Ni Mhaolain (24) was born with occulocutaneous albinism
Jessica Ni Mhaolain (24) was born with occulocutaneous albinism

An Irish student who will graduate from UCC today has revealed that her achievements would not have been made possible, if not for the support of her Special Needs Assistant throughout her education.

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Jessica Ni Mhaolain (24) was born with occulocutaneous albinism which allows her to see just five feet in front of her. In an emotional Facebook post yesterday, the MA in Government graduate dedicated her degree to hardworking SNAs who have allowed her experience the same educational opportunities as everyone else.

“I would not have finished primary school without the help of my SNA,” Jessica said.

“I definitely would not have sat either my Junior or Leaving Cert without an SNA. Having an SNA put me on a level playing field with my classmates, simple as. Every child has a right to education, and it's near impossible for a child to learn if they rely on sound alone.”

The Cork student revealed that the government’s move to introduce SNAs in 1999 completely changed her school life.

“Close your eyes, imagine what it would be like to rely only on sound for your education. Relying only on sound to learn how to spell, add and subtract, read, and write. Because that's what I had to do, until SNA's were introduced by the Minister for Education in 1999 - which was Micheál Martin.

“I couldn't learn like other kids until then, I relied on sound alone. When I eventually got the invaluable resource of an SNA's help, I had the help to do things I couldn't because of my sight.”

SNAs are recruited to support students who have significant care needs, arising from a disability or medical condition, and may assist with issues such as feeding, toileting, medication and mobility.

There are now about 12,000 SNAs working in schools throughout the country.

Ni Mhaolain expressed her hope that the upcoming government will value the vital role of SNAs and allocate necessary government funding to support children like herself from primary level.

“While I'm graduating tomorrow morning, there will be children and parents in Cork who were where my parents once were and they will be wondering whether their child will achieve an education like I have,” she said.

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