The Social Engagement Experiences of Disabled Students in Higher Education in Ireland.

Rath, Vivian The Social Engagement Experiences of Disabled Students in Higher Education in Ireland.


The number of undergraduate students with disabilities attending HE has increased to 7.1% in response to a range of national policies and practices. In sharp contrast, the number of postgraduate students with disabilities only represents 2.4% of the postgraduate population (Ahead, 2019). Little is known about the experiences of disabled students undertaking a Ph.D.

In response to a request by a disabled PhD student, Vivian Rath, to the Associate Provost for Equality Diversity and Inclusion, Trinity College Dublin has established a forum to hear the voice of staff, PhD and postdoctoral researchers with disabilities. This is organised and led by disabled students and staff. The literature suggests that the development of communities of disabled students acts to support them in building an identity, developing coping strategies, and skills to advocate on their own behalf (Avellone & Scott, 2017).

The results from the two forum events held identified a range of barriers and enablers faced by members of this community. Barriers included social isolation, difficulties accessing supports and worries about disclosure. Creating a climate and structure within HEIs that enables the amplification of diverse voices is critical to the implementation of the widening participation agenda. Offering institutions a window to the lived experiences of a diverse group including the barriers they face (Vickerman & Blundell, 2010). This presentation will detail how the Forum is working to tackle social isolation through its monthly 'Virtual Tea'.

It will focus on how a collaboration led by disabled students and staff, supported by senior management, has resulted in the establishment of a structure incorporating the voice of disabled people designed to inform policy and practice in Trinity College Dublin.

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