Current Government policy on the provision of services to people with disabilities places emphasis on the importance of mainstreaming. The provision of a third level campus to facilitate people with disabilities would not be consistent with the objective of ensuring services for people with disabilities are provided on an inclusive and integrated basis in line with services to the general public.
Among the measures my Department is taking to assist students with disabilities to access third level education is the fund for students with disabilities. This fund, which is ESF-aided, was introduced in 1994. It provides funding to students with disabilities attending courses in third level institutions and, since 1998, in post-leaving certificate centres.
The purpose of the fund is to provide students with serious physical and-or sensory disabilities with grant assistance towards the cost of special equipment, special materials and technological aids, targeted transport services, personal assistants and sign language interpreters.
Under the social inclusion measures in the Government's national development plan, there is provision for a third level access fund totalling almost €121 million, over the period 2000 to 2006, aimed at tackling under-representation by a number of target groups including students with a disability. The report of the Action Group on Access to Third Level Education, which was established to advise on the development of a co-ordinated strategy to increase participation by the target groups, was published in 2001.
Provision for the fund for students with disabilities has increased from €101,579 in 1994 to a gross level of €5.3 million in the 2003-04 academic year. In addition to the fund, between 1996 and 2003, as part of its targeted initiative funding programme, the Higher Education Authority has allocated more than €7 million towards activities focused on supporting increased access for students with a disability. Among the activities funded have been the employment of specialist staff; the training of academic and non-academic staff; the establishment of units for provision of assistive technology training and support for students and staff; careers support for students with a disability; pre-entry outreach and taster programmes; and post-entry orientation and support.
My Department is committed to supporting initiatives in the area of universal access and funding has been provided in recent years to address physical access problems in existing buildings in the third level sector. Furthermore, all new buildings are required to comply with building regulations governing access. New buildings must incorporate standard design features necessary to facilitate universal access in compliance with part M of the building regulations.