Colleges running fewer courses suitable for students with disabilities, says report

Structural barriers and ‘low expectations’ block those with intellectual disabilities

A culture of “low expectations” and a limited supply of appropriate training courses have been identified as key barriers to people with intellectual disabilities entering further education.

A report commissioned by Leinster-based service provider Walk warned that a trend within the further education sector to mimic course offerings at third level was in danger of leaving more vulnerable students behind.

“While post-Leaving Cert courses have been traditionally seen as an alternative to higher education, increasingly they are provided in the further education sector as a form of transition to higher education.

“Thus colleges run fewer courses at FETAC/QQI level 3 and below, which is the level that many prospective students with intellectual disability are seeking. Such programmes are being delivered, if at all, by other providers, such as community education organisations.”


This was identified as “perhaps the most significant” structural barrier to people with intellectual disabilities accessing training.

The report, funded by EU and Irish equality authorities, is published today. It identifies a series of other barriers to access, including stigma, low expectations, bureaucracy, and “risk aversion and reluctance on the part of some families and other carers”.

A number of service providers and parents said they had encountered an attitude in education circles questioning the point of a student “who isn’t going to qualify” going to college.

“Several people felt this was a particular barrier that undercut a lot of attempts to mainstream access – the idea of education and learning as an economic output rather than as an entitlement.”

The Economic and Social Research Institute showed in 2011 only 4 per cent of people with an intellectual disability had a third-level degree, and 63 per cent had not progressed to second level.

The Walk report notes that students with disabilities cannot access student grants if they are attending college part time, or studying for courses below FETAC level 5.

Of the 8,840 participants with disabilities participating in further education programmes in 2007-2008, only 331 (3.7 per cent) accessed grants.

Joe Humphreys

Joe Humphreys

Joe Humphreys is an Assistant News Editor at The Irish Times and writer of the Unthinkable philosophy column