AsIAm welcomes the opportunity to contribute to developing the next iteration of the National Plan for Equity of Access to Higher Education. It is our ambition that this new strategy broadens its scope to proactively address the many barriers to accessing third level opportunities for an often-overlooked cohort of the student population.
As Ireland’s national autism charity, our organisation has consistently campaigned for greater, tailored supports for autistic students studying at both further and higher levels of education, as well as building greater awareness of autism as a spectrum condition amongst institutions’ academic and support staff; our Autism-Friendly Universities Programme is AsIAm’s flagship project in this regard.
As a whole-of-life condition, it is only appropriate that equally wide-ranging and tailored assistance is given to prospective students on the autism spectrum. Significant investment into the Plan from its first interaction in 2015 has generated a solid foundation for the Department to develop a wide-ranging framework going forward.
In our submission to the Department of Further and Higher Education’s public consultation, AsIAm has outlined our proposals of how we envisage the next National Plan might provide opportunities and tailored supports for autistic students – not only make the most of their individual potential, but also enable them to realise their dreams and ambitions as full and equal members of society.
• Include autistic people as an explicit cohort within targeted under-represented groups as a subcategory of students with disabilities within the next National Access Plan for 2022–2026.
• Initiate a formal data collection programme on autistic learners enrolled in higher education institutions to build a comprehensive picture of these students’ diverse profiles and inform future policy decisions.
• Implement a pilot autism training scheme with a sample of academic and support staff from institutes across Ireland, with a view to extending such training to all staff in the short to medium-term.
• Streamline colleges’ and universities’ Disability Services support continuums into a uniform suite of comprehensive resources, so that autistic students around the country can avail of supports without discrepancy.
• Invest additional resources into providing remote learning supports for autistic students, specifically around greater access to assistive technology, upgrading students’ digital skills, and improving remote accessibility of college services to part-time/flexible learners.
• Remove the means-test requirement for families seeking to access the SUSI Grant for all students with disabilities and people who experience educational disadvantage, including autistic students.