Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris yesterday announced the roll-out of projects aimed at increasing accessibility for autistic students and students with an intellectual disability in higher education environments.
The Higher Education Authority (HEA) allocated funding of €3 million to a range of projects including the implementation of universal design across third level institutions, increasing the digital accessibility of websites and e-learning, providing universal design learning (UDL) resources for staff and students, and the creation of autism friendly institutions through the provision of quiet and sensory spaces.
Audits on the accessibility of buildings and digital infrastructure will also be carried out as well as preparations for new three-year pathfinding programmes for students with intellectual disabilities.
The HEA will also work to develop a national charter for universal design and will build capacity through Continuing Professional Development (CPD) by creating training for a UDL badge.
Speaking yesterday, Harris said: “This is a really important investment in education, in access to education and inclusion. I want to thank all third level institutions for their leadership and vision in turning our plans into a reality.”
“While benefiting all students, it will be of particular benefit [to] students with disabilities, including students with autism. It will improve access and make our campuses better places to be.”
“Later this year, we will issue a competitive funding call for new 3-year pathfinding pilot programmes/course provision for students with intellectual disabilities with a funding stream of €3 million a year over 3 years,” he added.
The new projects fall under the National Access Plan 2022-2028 which was announced in August of last year. Harris called the plan “the most ambitious plan for access to higher education”.
€35 million was allocated to the department of higher education for the seven year plan which aims to increase higher education participation among disadvantaged groups. The plan will also increase support for members of the Traveller community, and students from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
Trinity Disability Service welcomed the National Access Plan, saying that it was “ready to meet these targets and improve disabled students’ experiences in Trinity that will lead to better work opportunities”.