University College Cork announced the launch of a new Autism Friendly Project last Thursday. The project, which has been in collaboration with AsIAm, the Disability Support Services and the Registrar’s office within the university, aims to ensure that the campus is equipped for all students to reach their potential.
The plans consist of a renovation to the university’s Old Bar by the Student Union to create a Sensory Room and Quiet Room. This is designated for students who wish to seek an escape from the campus during its busier times. A lift, accessible bathrooms, and gender-neutral cubicles will also be incorporated into the renovation.
The project was first suggested by newly-elected UCC SU’s Disability Rights Officer, Rosemary Kelly, “This kind of space can potentially be the difference between students remaining in education and pursuing a degree, or dropping out due to the impact on their health,” said Kelly.
The Equality Working Group within UCC has been the steering committee that has pushed the development. The group consists of a mixture of both staff and student representatives across the university, it is chaired by Dr Máire Leane.
Bringing the project to this stage has been the first achievement made by the incoming Student Union for 2018/19. The area is set to be open for use from September 2019. It is being funded by Student Charges and Fees Forum in UCC.
“For the past year our equality working group have been pushing for a designated sensory space on campus, they also ran a trial sensory space during elections upstairs in our common room,” UCC SU President Alan Hayes explained.
He added, “we noticed that there was no physical space on campus aside from the AT lab in the library for students with disabilities to get away from the busy campus. We didn’t want to just create a space and do nothing else so we joined up with the DSS to put the wheels in motion for the autism-friendly university project to work hand in hand with the space.”
AsIAm has been a part of the collaboration of the project also. AsIAm is an Autism charity which aims to educate the public about autism while acting as an advocate and empowering the Autism community in Ireland.
Its founder Adam Harris was invited to the launch of the project. The Equality Working Group sought to establish a relationship with AsIAm to guarantee that the space provided fully adheres to the needs of students with Autism.
Earlier this year, Dublin City University was recognised as the world’s first Autism-Friendly University by the charity. DCU’s research findings show students with autism in third-level
education often encounter greater levels of difficulty settling in and adapting to university life.
The university has pledged to introduce an array of supports to minimize these issues, along with autism-specific training and awareness for academic and support staff across the university.
Photo credit: University College Cork