Accessibility in Third level education – the scale of the problem
AHEAD do some amazing work within the third level sector to create inclusive environments in education and employment for people with disabilities but a recent report from them drove home the scale of the problem that we are facing in third level
The most recent figures show 6.6% of the total student population in higher education registered with disability support services. That figure is brilliant yet alarming at the same time. It is brilliant because it represents a huge growth over the last 20 years. Before now those potential students would not get to higher education, they would struggle to complete second level and would be strongly discouraged about going on to third level even if they did get to complete second level. Having this level of growth in such a short space of time is a huge credit to the work that is going on at primary and second level, supporting those students and helping them achieve their potential through education. The knock on effect this support has on the families of those students is phenomenal and the importance of that cannot be overstatement. But the scary element of that 6.6% is that it only is a fraction of the real figure. The real figure is hidden because not all students choose to register with the services and some students may still not even realize that they a difficulty. For a variety of reasons they may not yet have received a diagnosis yet and as a result cannot avail of the services on offer. To give you a rough indication when AHEAD completed an anonymous survey with students 12% of respondents disclosed a disability.
Let’s break that down with some simple examples – most classes in higher education would have at least 50 in a class – that is 6 students with a disability in most classes. 300 students in a class is not unusual and that equates to 36 students. If a lecturer does not by default implement inclusive practices in their teaching they are excluding those students, at the very least they are putting them at a disadvantage.
To make things a little more challenging not all disabilities are visible as a matter of fact very few are for a lecturer, particularly if they have large class sizes. As a result lecturers sometimes think – none of my students have a disability. Just based on the basic math’s outlined above there is somebody in every class that needs support.
My final point is in relation to the consequence of not having the support: – the most obvious consequence is students will struggle and potential fail their exams which can lead to drop in confidence and self esteem and an increase in pressure on the students. This can be more serious for people with a disability than those without a disability – looking at one particular disability Attention Deficit HyperActivity Disorder (ADHD) a study of nearly 22,000 Canadian adults found that the suicide rate for those with ADHD was nearly five times higher than those without ADHD.
So to conclude, in advance of the updated National Access Plan for education which is due for release in the coming days, the scale of the problem is much bigger than most people realize. It is not just the problem of the disability services in an institution – it is the problem of everyone in an institution.