Monday 26 August 2019

DARE or not, colleges offer help for those who need it

Disability

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Aoife Walsh

The Disability Access Route to Education (DARE) is a nationwide programme that allows school-leavers (under the age of 23) whose disability has impacted on their education to enter third level on reduced points. The criteria that must be met by applicants are extremely strict. It is important to know that not all students with a disability or learning difficulty who may benefit from some support at third level qualify for DARE and some may not even have applied for it.

This year there were 6,977 applicants to DARE, up from 6,582 last year. Students were informed of the success, or otherwise, of their application back in June.

Unsuccessful applicants will be disappointed, but this does not mean they, or others who didn't apply to DARE but may have a particular need, cannot access support to help them achieve in their third-level studies.

If a CAO applicant indicated on their CAO form that they had a disability or specific learning difficulty, a college will be aware that they may wish to access support. Many institutions will make contact with the applicant once the offer has been accepted to invite them to learn more about supports on offer.

If, for whatever reason, an applicant did not tick this box they can still access support, but should present themselves to the disability office as soon as possible. Remember, it is not too late to do this at any time in the college journey.

In my experience, some applicants who could benefit from the disability support service are unwilling or even afraid to make contact with it. They may feel that they should be able to succeed at third level and that asking for support, in some way will result in them being judged. Applicants with learning difficulties may even feel that the college will not want such students, which, of course, is definitely not the case.

Applicants can be particularly slow to ask for help if they have not qualified for, or needed support at second-level school, where strict criteria must be met.

Students are under no obligation to take up any support on offer from the college. However, they should ensure they are aware of what is available, which they can choose to access at a later date. Supports are often extremely practical and can include anything from a supportive contact person to the provision of learning materials in a more accessible format. Most institutions will also offer counselling, mental health and support in times of personal crisis.

The transition from second level to third level can be unexpectedly overwhelming for many students irrespective of their disability status. All students will benefit from knowing what supports are in place for them before they get to the point of being overwhelmed. This makes it more likely that they will succeed at third level even if they are faced with some unexpected challenges.

All this information will be available during Orientation Week so first years should make sure to attend the full programme.

Irish Independent

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