Trinity has an interesting way of presenting itself with regard to certain issues. As a student with a disability, who openly speaks about it and gets to hear other people’s opinions, I have come to this conclusion: College has a substantial issue with funding, that’s something you can’t deny, but it is also facing a major problem regarding engagement.
Those who were offered a place in College through the DARE scheme will be aware of the vigorous orientation system involved. You take a seat in the Ed Burke and have the Disability Service reassure your parents that their child will get every support they could ever imagine. From educational needs to an occupational therapy service, they’ll make sure students are cared for.
However, upon speaking to students it seems as though this support system breaks down in several instances. Yes, I understand that the services are under extreme pressure from high demand, but whilst they prove highly useful for some, it seems as though the majority find that the supports in place are failing.
For most students I’ve spoken with on the matter, the occupational service Unilink has offered them one solution to all their problems: making a timetable. Are you struggling to wake up in the morning because of a chronic illness? Let’s make a timetable. Are you unable to use public transport because of your anxiety about being in close contact with so many people? Let’s make a timetable. Perhaps you can’t get to your class because it isn’t wheelchair accessible? Let’s make a timetable. A serious overhaul, or at least an understanding of what students truly want and need, could really improve this service and reduce the number of people who stop using it out of frustration.
During my time in College I have spoken to many students about the issues they have identified, and often it comes down to services and a lack of support from people who should be helping but maintain that the student’s issue is not theirs to deal with. A lot of the time people go to the Disability Service to find they are referred to their tutor, only to be referred by their tutor back to the Disability Service, and so on, even if their problem is urgent and requires immediate attention. A greater emphasis must be put on transparency and the acceptance of responsibility across all areas of College. It seems as though nobody fully understands what their role is when it comes to assisting students with disabilities. This isn’t necessarily the fault of any one person, but a system needs to be put in place so that individuals and different services alike understand what they must do when students ask for help.
I think the issues that arise for students could be resolved through discussing and analysing what they have been asking for. A huge barrier to providing effective supports is lack of funding. At the moment, Trinity has only one psychiatrist to cover 17,000 students. This is just one example of the many underfunded areas of College that greatly affects students with disabilities. When you consider that a property was purchased last year for €1.95m which our provost uses to get away from the sound of the ongoing Luas works, it brings into question how Trinity distributes its funds. It seems that the students who require well-funded services to facilitate a functional college experience aren’t being considered when budgets are being drawn up.
Overall, it has to be noted that Trinity is trying. You can see it most prominently in the students themselves. People volunteer to help out on Disability Day, students are there for their friends, people help out in every way that they can, from being class reps to becoming S2S mentors. But at the end of the day, it shouldn’t be the case that students have to bridge the gap, much like charities have to for the government. Trinity should be living up to the promises it makes that first day in the Ed Burke at the Disability talk. We need change, and the time is now.