Millions of euros in funding have been earmarked to help students with autism and people with intellectual disabilities, from Carlow and across Ireland, gain access to higher education.

Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Minister Simon Harris announced details of the new aid on Thursday (June 1).

Three million euros will be allocated to the initiatives each year until 2025 so that higher education institutions can implement inclusive practices on their campuses and improve the student experience.

Minister Harris said: “We have never focused on the number of students with developmental disabilities or autism who have entered or completed third level. These new proposals will allow us to assess how we are doing, but more importantly, we will introduce new policy changes to ensure we are doing better.

“Education is society’s greatest leveller. A key ambition for me is to ensure that learning supports and opportunities are provided to all. This means recognizing the needs of vulnerable learners, those most marginalized people and people with special and additional needs and help them access and progress in higher education.

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

This year’s funding can also be used for staff training and development.

Minister Harris added: “Before approving these proposals, we looked at what was already happening. There are examples of very good practice in the system and encouraging signs of commitment to the broad process of change required to make these programs a success.

“However, there are also examples where, despite a strong commitment, it has not been possible to offer sustainable programs over time. The government is also looking for expertise to support the department and the HEA so that this deployment meets the student needs.”

Minister Harris called it a “significant 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 these initiatives, Minister of State for Disability, Anne Rabbitte, said: “These new proposals from Minister Harris and the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research Innovation and Science are extremely welcome as we seek to support greater opportunities and increased engagement in higher education by students with intellectual disabilities.

“The government is committed to supporting inclusive education pathways and initiatives for learners with intellectual disabilities, and the new national action plan will be a key step in our journey towards a truly inclusive higher and higher education.

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

“Under Article 24 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, we have a duty to ensure that we have an inclusive education system at all levels and lifelong learning oriented towards the development by people with disabilities of their personality, talents and creativity, as well as their mental and physical abilities, to their full potential.”

She concluded: “People with disabilities in Ireland have equal rights of access to education, but much more needs to be done to enable people with disabilities to realize their right to education, particularly in teaching. higher and higher. Minister Harris’ job done, as evidenced by today’s launch, represents excellent progress in this regard. The new action plan is a key element of Ireland’s efforts to achieve the objectives of the convention.



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