Cash-strapped and living with a disability

Accommodation difficulties facing students with disabilities

It seems that when students living with disabilities look to have certain needs accommodated by Trinity, it does not happen without a fight — especially with regards to student accommodation. Students’ experiences with College administration can vary. While some claim there is a lot to be dissatisfied about, others point to the Trinity officials dotted throughout College who will go above and beyond for the interests of students with disabilities, such as Declan Treanor and those at the Disability Service. However, many students feel that disability issues and accessibility are almost always an afterthought for those in College administration.

Having a disability can often incur additional expenses on top of day-to-day living. Niamh Ní Hoireabhaird, the Disability Officer for the year, has been looking into the financial burden of accommodation for students with disabilities. “It’s only right that there be some sort of rent reduction for those who apply for accommodation through the Disability Service. Now that I’m on the SU, I really want to do something about this,” she said. 

By comparison, Oxford University has a system whereby accommodation is sorted into “bands” by price. Students who apply for a given level of accommodation aren’t given offers of more expensive rooms. In Trinity, on the other hand, students may be offered high-end rooms with expensive rates of rent that they’re unable to afford. It is a system that is seen to be inconvenient for administrative staff as well as students, as can be seen with the Pearse Street apartments, which at €6,056.08 (including utility bills) for the 2020/21 academic year is the cheapest area of on-campus accommodation. Yet it does not have elevator access.

In cases where the impact of a student’s disability causes them significant difficulty or fatigue with walking short distances on campus, they will often be offered accommodation in and around Front Square. As of the 2020/21 Academic Year these areas, such as Botany Bay, the GMB and the Business School cost just over €9,100 per year, including utility bills. Students who cannot afford these fees and are not offered ground-floor apartments in Pearse Street are allocated to Goldsmith Hall, which does have disability access. Despite the fees being close to the middle at €7,646.96 including utility bills, it is located at the far end of campus across the street from the Sports Centre. This can be particularly difficult for students with visual impairments or significant physical or mobility restrictions who need to use the libraries or attend lectures, labs and tutorials in the Arts Building.

According to Maria Cullen, the outgoing Disability Liaison for Trinity Hall, “Very few of Trinity’s accommodation buildings have been built recently, so what we see is campus trying to put in disability access accommodation into buildings that weren’t designed for it. Most of this is concentrated in Front Square which would be fine because it’s so central but there are no subsidies or discount for the exorbitant fees. A lot of people who can’t afford to live in Front Square just don’t live there, but that just isn’t an option for students with disabilities or mobility issues. They don’t have a choice, if they want to go to college they have to pay these fees.

“The reason we are not hearing these stories is because these students … become disillusioned from attending Trinity because they’re basically told if they can’t pay up, that college doesn’t want them.”

Many students from all walks of life struggle to find accommodation for university and cost of rent can prove an exhausting challenge. Unfortunately, Covid-19 will only heighten these struggles. Uncertainty surrounding the format of Trinity lectures and society events this coming year has led to many students to forgo Dublin accommodation in favour of commuting. However, for those with disabilities this is not a realistic option. These students will have little other choice than to avail of the on-campus accommodation and the 4% rent increase on last year, despite likely reduced contact hours. Niamh Ní Hoireabhaird is currently collecting testimonies at [email protected] from students with disabilities, hoping to compile them and build a case as to why they should receive extra support when it comes to “paying rent for the extortionate on-campus accommodation”. 

Sean Gordon Dalton

Sean is a Deputy Features Editor at Trinity News