Deirdre Staunton of DITs Disability Support Service answers your questions!
How does the service define what is a disability?
As a support service we do not define disabilities per se. We offer support to students with disabilities and this support is offered when students present supporting documentation to verify their disability, as underlined by the criteria required for the Disability Access Route to Education (DARE) scheme.
Typical categories include: Physical Disability, Blind/Visual Impairment, Deaf/Hard of Hearing, Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) including Asperger’s Syndrome, ADHD, Specific Learning Difficulties, Mental Health, Significant Ongoing Illness (SOI).
There can be a wide range of difference between how individuals with a particular condition are affected, ranging from mild to severe difficulties. A person’s environment, which includes the supports they have and the physical or social barriers they face, influences the scale of the challenges they encounter in everyday life. These differences can determine what supports are offered and put in place.
How many students used the disability service in DIT?
When the Disability Support Services started in 1990 we supported 100 students. Today we support 1373 students, over 7% of the current student population.
What kind of supports can DIT provide for students with disabilities?
We offer supports in the following areas; Learning Support, Assistive Technology and Examination Accommodations. After students are registered with the DSS they complete their needs assessment with their Learning Support Officer (LSO). As part of this assessment, the LSO will look at any reasonable accommodations a student has received during their time in school, and to advise them on what supports they may need in DIT. All students who register with us will also be referred to an Assistive Technology Officer to assess their Assistive Technology needs. Every student is individually assessed so reasonable accommodations are put in place according to a student’s disability. Students can also be referred to other supports within DIT e.g. our Chaplaincy Services, Counselling Service, Occupational Therapy, Medical Centre.
Why is there not a Learning Support Officer on every site?
We currently have four Learning Support Officers and two Assistive Technology Officers supporting all registered students with the Disability Support Services in DIT. In comparison to some HEIs, we are very well resourced.
There is a printing allowance given to some students – why has this allowance been reduced by 50%?
We currently offer students a photocopying allowance and this allowance is intended for students to use for a reason related to their disability. These reasons can include photocopying their classmates’ notes if their disability prevents them from taking their own notes (e.g. dyslexia), or downloading and printing notes from WebCourses.
It is important to highlight that the photocopying/printing allowance is not a financial support; rather it is a support to help accommodate a student’s disability.
Our funding has decreased over the years and our numbers are increasing, so to be fair to every student registered with our service we offer a photocopying allowance so all students have this support.
Do you think there is enough being done in DIT for students with disabilities?
I do think the support for students with disabilities is exceptional but there is always room for improvement. The goal of the Disability Support Services is to ensure that any student with a disability does not experience an educational disadvantage in accessing, fully participating in, and benefiting from, educational opportunities at DIT.
However, a fully inclusive campus requires a continium of supports running from the classroom to the Disability Support Services. The categories of disabilities that are now recognised have increased dramatically over the years and there is a necessity to equip our staff so they feel they can also support these students and remove any barriers in the classroom/departments etc. Offering training/workshops to staff is something I would love to see delivered as soon as possible. We are currently discussing the provision of training with the DIT, Learning and Teaching Technology Centre (LTTC) and with the commitment from the Institute, we are confident even more barriers can be removed.
Research has shown that offering students a space to take time out during the day to rest and recuperate can be invaluable. I would love to see our students offered an assigned space on all our campuses. Some of our students can experience fatigue, pain, discomfort, others can be sensitive to noise and students diagnosed with ASD can find a quiet space invaluable to get them through their day. I would love to see some respite rooms available to students and to be ASD friendly.
What do students need to do to access these services?
Students who need to avail of our services should register with the DSS as soon as they start college. Some students may have a late diagnosis during their studies and again they should contact us as soon as possible so they can be supported Students can register by contacting their campus Learning Support Officer. Appointments can be booked on their online calendars available here: https://bit.ly/2xZRNC4
What dates are important in the academic year for the disability service?
It is important that all students with a disability attend our Induction at the start of each academic year. This is normally held at the end of August/beginning of September.
We encourage all our students to register with our service at the start of the academic year so we can ensure all their supports are in place for their Semester one. New students to DIT should register (including all DARE students) before Friday, the 26th October 2018. We would advise all continuing students who may be returning or who have progressed onto another programme, to advise their Learning Support Officer so their examination accommodations are up to date.
Where is the main office and staff located?
We currently have nine full-time members of staff working in our service.
- Mountjoy Square (Learning Support Officer and Assistive Technology Officer) ,
- Bolton Street (Learning Support Officer),
- Aungier Street (Learning Support Officer and Assistive Technology Officer),
- Kevin Street (Learning Support Officer),
- Rathmines (Head of Service, Project Officer and Assistance Project Officer).
Some of our support staff share their time between campuses offering support to all students from Grangegorman, BIMM and Cathal Brugha Street.
The Disability Support staff are located across all campuses, full contact details here: https://bit.ly/2xZRNC4
All our Learning Support Officers and Assistive Technology Officers also offer a daily drop in service from 12.00 – 13.00.
Do you have any tips or advice you would give students with a disability?
My advice to students is to register and stay engaged with our service. Firstly, students who wish to avail of our supports should register as soon as possible so their supports are in place as quickly as possible. Secondly, I would encourage students to stay engaged with us on a regular basis. From time to time, we hear from students who feel challenged and have been struggling but were unaware they can avail of our support during the year. Students should understand we are available to them and staying in touch with their Learning Support Officer on a regular basis may alleviate unnecessary stress. All our Learning Support Officers and Assistive Technology Officers offer a daily drop in service from 12.00 – 13.00. So I would advise if students are feeling a little challenged to come and knock on our door. We have a wonderful team available to students but we can only support students if we know they need our support. A student’s circumstances can change over time and sometimes supports may need to be reviewed.
We can also refer students to other support services within DIT, should the need arise. A number of valuable study skill seminars in areas that assist students are delivered throughout the year such as, Examination Preparation, Time Management, Concentration Strategies, Organisational Strategies and in other areas. Full details on the seminars available to all students are available on our website and will begin in September.
Study Skill Seminars: http://www.dit.ie/campuslife/disability/
There is also a myth out there that we only offer support to students who enter college through the Disability Access Route to Education (DARE) scheme. It is important to highlight that any student with a certified disability can avail of our services.
And finally, some advice to everyone on campus. Students with disabilities do not want to be treated any differently, but a kind smile and a little bit more of your time can go a long way.
Ph: 01 220 5008/5097