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01 Jul 2022

€3m in supports announced for autistic third level students in Waterford

€3m in supports announced for autistic third level students in Waterford

This year's funding may also be used for staff training and development. 

Millions of euro in funding has been ringfenced to support autistic students and those with intellectual disabilities from Waterford and across Ireland to access third level education. 

The Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris, announced details of the new supports on Thursday June 1. 

Three million euro will be allocated to the initiatives every year to 2025 so that higher education institutions can implement inclusive practices on their campuses and enhance student experience. 

Minister Harris said, "We have never focused on how many students with an intellectual disability or autism have entered or completed third level. These new proposals will allow us to assess how we are doing but crucially, we will be introducing new policy changes to ensure we do better. 

"Education is the greatest leveller in society. A key ambition for me is to ensure that supports and opportunities are provided for learning to all. This means recognising the needs of vulnerable learners, people who are most marginalised and people with special and additional needs and assisting them in accessing and progressing through third level education."

Funding for 2022 will be directed towards universal design and inclusive practices, while future improvements include supporting autism-friendly campuses by developing wayfinding apps, signage, sensory rooms or quiet zones. 

This year's funding may also be used for staff training and development. 

Minister Harris added, "Before we agreed these proposals, we examined what was already happening. There are examples of very good practice in the system and encouraging signs of commitment to the extensive process of change required to make such programmes a success.

"However, there are also examples where, despite strong commitment, it was not possible to deliver programmes which were sustainable over time. The government is also seeking expertise to support the department and HEA to ensure this roll out meets the needs of students." 

Minister Harris called it "an important day" and said, "I really want to thank everyone for working with us to make this a reality. This has the potential to change the lives of autistic students and students with intellectual disabilities.” 

Welcoming the initiatives, Minister of State with responsibility for Disability, Anne Rabbitte, said, "These new proposals from Minister Harris and the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research Innovation and Science are hugely welcome as we seek to support greater opportunities and enhanced engagement in higher education by students with an intellectual disability.

"The government is committed to supporting access routes and inclusive education initiatives to learners with intellectual disabilities, and the new National Action Plan will be a key milestone in our journey towards a truly inclusive Further and Higher Education Sector.

According to Minister Rabbitte, Ireland has a duty to remove barriers. 

"Under Article 24 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, we have a duty to ensure we have an inclusive education system at all levels and lifelong learning directed to the development by persons with disabilities of their personality, talents and creativity, as well as their mental and physical abilities, to their fullest potential." 

She concluded: "People with disabilities in Ireland have equal rights of access to education, but there is much more work to be done to enable people with disabilities to vindicate their right to education, particularly in Further and Higher Education. The work Minister Harris is doing, as evidenced in today’s launch, represents excellent progress in this regard. The New Action Plan is a key piece of work in Ireland’s overall efforts to achieve the objectives of the convention." 

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