Written Answers. - Special Educational Needs.

Jimmy Deenihan

Ceist:

389 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Education and Science if his Department is responsible for services for deaf students in third level education; the plans, if any, he has to expand the services available to deaf students in third level institutions such as sign language interpreters; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25111/99]

The Universities Act, 1997 requires each university to prepare a statement of its equality policy addressing, inter alia, access of people who have a disability. Furthermore, the Higher Education Authority has, since 1996, provided targeted funding to the university sector for initiatives designed to promote access to, and participation in, higher education for students with disabilities. In 1999 this funding amounted to £539,000. Examples of initiatives funded to date, of particular relevance to deaf and hearing impaired students, include installation of loop systems, assistive technologies, counselling and other student support services, special alarm systems and staff training and awareness development.

In addition, the special fund for students with disabilities has operated since 1994 under the aegis of my Department to provide funding to students with disabilities attending courses in third level institutions and, since 1998, post leaving certificate centres. The purpose of the special 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. In 1998 almost £100,000 was allocated to approximately 40 students with hearing impairments. The level of funding allocated to the special fund has increased substantially each year from £80,000 in 1994 to £250,000 in 1998. The arrangements for the 1999 special fund for students with disabilities are currently being finalised and I expect to make an announcement in this regard in the near future.
Finally the Higher Education Authority is examining a proposal from Trinity College Dublin to establish a centre for deaf studies. The authority is consulting with various interests in the field in relation to the proposal and I understand that it expects to have this consultative process completed early in the new year. I further understand that the question of the availability of sign language interpreters will be considered in this regard.