Originally posted here by Linda Kelly, USI Equality Officer

Hi Everyone,

Just to let you know that Equality Standing Conference will take place on the 5th & 6th of March 2010 in Cork City. We are very grateful to UCC for agreeing to host the event.

Opening of submission of motions and nominations (for the 4 part time officer positions) is Monday 8th February.

Close of submission of motions and nominations (for the 4 part time officer positions) is Friday 19th February at 17:00.

The positions available are:

  • Disability Rights Officer;
  • Gender Equality Officer;
  • Mature Students Officer &
  • International Students Officer.

Please circulate this email to any student you think may be interested in taking up a position. Nominations must be submitted on union headed paper by the CO President and include evidence of student status of the candidate. Nominations must be submitted by post and email.

I would also encourage you to submit motions to conference on equality issues. Motions can only mandate the following officers: Equality, LGBT, Disability Rights, Gender Equality, Mature & International. Motions must be submitted on union headed paper signed by the CO President via fax & email.

If you have any questions, please email me or give me a buzz!

Kind regards,

Linda

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A substantial part of all of AHEAD’s work  is trying to make sure that our information/ knowledge gets to the people who can use it to make positive changes – in essence lobbying. Where possible, I’ll try to keep you updated on some of the meetings I or my colleagues have had. Ann Heelan, my boss, and our director sent on this feedback from a recent meeting she had.

“AHEAD, Brendan Goldsmith (Chair of AHEAD’s Board of Directors) and Ann Heelan (Director of AHEAD) met with Minister of State for Equality, Disability and Mental Health John Moloney, Brian Power (Principal Officer, Higher Education-Equity of Access Section , Department of Education and Science (DES) ), and  Leo Sheedy (Assistant Principal, Employment and Training Supports for People with Disabilities Section, Department of Enterprise Trade and Employment (DETE) ) to update the minister on inequalities experienced by students with disabilities in making the change from second level education to higher education and on to work.

Issues discussed included

  • the need to improve the learning experience of second level students with visual impairments and dyslexia by providing them with alternative textbooks, electronic books in particular.
  • the need to ensure children with disability who need technology to learn, to read materials etc are taught how to use it and are provided with the correct hardware and software to enable them to learn in a way comparable with other children
  • the barriers for students with disability in the application screening system for primary school teaching
  • the need to base the FÁS system of workplace grants on reasonable accommodations, the current system favours those who need equipment yet ignores those who need transport or interpreters to access and maintain employment.

The Minister is committed to seeing just how he can bring about improvements to these areas, in particular he is interested in following up with the main publishers for school textbooks just how they can be made available electronically. AHEAD will be  following  up on these issues with the Minister and the DES and DETE departments.”

Working with the publishers of school textbooks is a a low/ no cost measure that is theoretically very possible. Should all this feedback be taken on board, it has the potential to make a significant differences. Watch this space!

As many of you will have seen, as part of the government’s strategy of labour activation, college places are being made available for people to go back to college and upskill. Information on these places is here, here, here, here, here, here and here (links are to newspaper articles, Department of Education website, HEA website)

There’s one significant problem: no funding is being made available for supports for accommodations which some people with disabilities may require so that they can access these courses.

“The new part time study places for unemployed graduates outlined in today’s Irish Times has made absolutely no provision for unemployed graduates with a disability…Students with disabilities on full time courses can avail of a Fund for Students with Disabilities operated by the National Access Office within the HEA…However, as this fund is not open to disabled graduates applying to this part time scheme, then if they need supports to deal with their disability then they are stuck, they are excluded from taking part.

Why should a graduate with a disability be ineligible for funding for vital supports to do a course just because he/she is studying part time? this is discrimination and excludes graduates with disabilities from this scheme and the opportunities accruing.”

The full statement from AHEAD on this is available here. It was referenced in the Independent on Wednesday 5th August.

It is being left to the institutions to fulfill their obligations under the Equal Status Act, without any extra funding. So in essence, if you are an unemployed person who meets the requirements to access these ‘free’ courses, but you happen to have a disability which requires support, you will have to work with the institution to ensure that those supports are made available (and hope that the supports constitute a reasonable accomodation of nominal cost). Even though this is a government led labour activation measure, they are not going to do anything to help you, or the institution, to take up their intiative.

While this blog tries to focus specifically on issues relating to disability & employment I don’t apply that rigidly – very few things are so clearcut and in this instance, education is an integral part of any conversation about employment.

Below is a letter from our director, written to the Irish Times on the budget cuts proposed by Minister Batt O’Keefe which will effect children with mild general learning difficulties (MGLD) It speaks for itself.

“Minister O’Keefe is right to mainstream education, but for the wrong reasons

Placing children with MGLD is “special” classes is not mainstream  education, it is still segregated education even though it is located in a mainstream school.  In fact the “special” class only highlights the difference of the child and label of disability attached making the child quite isolated amongst the other children.  A really inclusive school is one which includes all children including those with MGLD and other disabilities in the mianstream classroom.

Inclusive education is education which welcomes every child and acknowledges the right of every child to be included by saying that every child has the right to be in a mainstream classroom with other children his/her age and it includes them in all school activities.  An inclusive school changes and restructures how it does things to ensure that every child can learn and reach their potential, it changes its classrooms, the curriculum it buildings, images to  ensure that the child’s educational needs are met.

Mainstream education benefits children with MGLD in particular as they will learn from the interaction with other children, the cut and thrust of slagging, of joking of having fun with children their own age.

This however is not what the Minister had in mind as Inclusive education needs the additional resource teachers in the classroom.  It will definitely not save money.  It would require a full complement of resource teachers and special needs assistants to be incorporated into the classroom and to work as a team with other teachers to support the learning activities going on in the classroom.

So we ask the Minister to move to move the children into the mainstream classroom, but to bring the resource teachers with them.

Ann Heelan

Executive Director

AHEAD”

The NDA (National Disability Authority) is currently writing its strategic plan for 2010-1012. They are looking for your views on what should be their areas of work for the next three years. You can read more about it here and download the submission forms etc.

We’re putting our submission together at the moment – if you have anything in particular you’d like me to put in, rather than submitting on your own, please do let me know.

The NDA is the organisation the government derives most of its policy and views from – it describes itself as “an independent body set up by law to advised the Government on disability matters”. So what it says matters in terms of policy change and government. This is a chance to influence that in some way, so if you have a few minutes please complete the form and send it in by the 2nd March
UPDATED: here’s our submission – short, but then the process was a little limiting in my opinion