Lack of inclusion rather than deliberate exclusion

autism, college, disability, exclusion

One’s experience of inclusion will more than likely vary from one person to the next. For people with a disability, these experiences can sometimes be positive, while others often have less fortunate experiences …

As a person with autism, I have a lot of social anxiety, to the point that I have often been excluded from social events or gatherings because of a lack of inclusion rather than deliberate exclusion. That is to say, I have never found that people have gone out of their way to keep me out of social activities – and perhaps that goes for my entire life, not just my time in college – but since I’m mostly reticent to socialise in the first place (in order to keep my anxiety to a minimum), I often find myself being excluded from various events that I would actually be interested in attending, as a result of this. At society meetups say, where there are a lot of people within a certain space and the atmosphere can often be quite intense and noisy, this is most certainly the case. Over time, I’ve actually found that a lot of people on the Autism Spectrum can relate to this, and simply find social gatherings on all levels – whether it be big crowds or even a get-together with a couple of friends – an overwhelming experience. 

As Inclusive Content Producer of the Ability Co-op, I’m definitely looking to make such social situations in college more inclusive, and perhaps even to an extent, more autism-friendly. People with autism can actually be quite sociable once they’ve found themselves and are comfortable with the social situation, and this is the kind of thing I would potentially like to hone in on come the new academic year in Trinity College.

– Ben Rowsome, Ability co_op’s Inclusive Content Producer

The Laidlaw Scholarship application process as a person with a Disability -Harry O’Brien

autism, college, disability, exclusion

How did you first hear about the Laidlaw programme?

I first heard about Laidlaw in November 2019 in an email sent out by careers, and for whatever reason, I looked into it and saw that it was pretty cool, and they pay you to do something that’s great for your cv which will make you more money in the future so you’d be silly not to apply. 

How did you decide what research project to do?

You must apply with a research project proposal, so I started thinking “what kind of research project would I like to do over the summer”, and I decided that I wanted to do one by the beach. It’s important to pick a project you enjoy doing, for reasons I will come back to later. I also wanted my application to be successful, so I decided to do my project about an important issue, ensured it was feasible and ensured my findings were a) useful, b) new, and c) could be acted upon. I made my research project about ‘the environmental, economic, and social effects of global warming on our coastal communities. A case study of southern Irish coastal regions’. 

How did you find a supervisor for your project?

I actually forgot about Laidlaw after writing my research project proposal because I thought I had found a professor in the college who would supervise my research project but she stopped replying to my emails, so on Friday, the 24th of January 2020 at 17:40 (3 days before the deadline) I reached out to the amazing Dr Susan Murphy and kind of begged her to accept my request for her to supervise my entire project. I found her by using peoplefinder.tcd.ie, searching for researchers in Departments relevant to my project and finding researchers who have researched topics similar to my research project. Thankfully she said yes, but I had also asked one of my lecturers whose area of expertise was absolutely nothing to do with geography or beaches or climate change as a back-up, and she said yes also, so I actually applied with 2 supervisors, which I think helped me because everybody else only had one. 

How did you write your research project proposal?

This was the tough bit. You must provide a title, which if you’ve seen previous Laidlaw projects you’ll know are generally really complicated, especially the medical research ones. My original title was ‘how will climate change impact coastal Ireland physically, economically, and socially?”, and my supervisor recommended the title I ended up using, which definitely helped.

(An example of the titles of successful research project proposals)

You must provide “a short summary of the research question, objectives, and impact in simple terms which can be understood by a non-expert” in 1000 words or less. I probably gave about 7 hours on this alone, because I believed it to be the most important part of my application. I split my summary into 6 chapters, Aims and Objectives, Methodology, Expected Findings & Impact, Requirements, Timeline, and Sources.

Aims and Objectives: I described the severity of our current climate crisis and how it is too late to prevent global warming so we must adapt to the changes it will bring (so my findings would be a. useful). I outlined the lack of new scientific literature on the likely effects of climate change on the regions I was studying (so my findings would be b. new). I ended it with what specific findings I would produce and what I will do with my findings.

Methodology: A detailed description of how you will produce the findings you’ve named. This takes a fair bit of time, but you have a lot of freedom to decide how and where you want to carry out your research project. You should justify every decision you make with regard to your methodology. For example, I chose to research Ringaskiddy, Kinsale, Castletownbere, and Barleycove because they are all distinct coastal communities which will eliminate any sampling bias.

Expected Findings & Impact: Be honest about your expected findings. The impact part is important, because if your findings don’t have any impact then what was the point of you doing your project? I knew that as part of a climate change act that was recently passed, every city & county council had to produce a climate change adaption plan, which involved ‘identifying areas and assets vulnerable to climate change”. Once I produce my findings I will contact local politicians if I have identified areas and assets vulnerable to climate change in their constituency that is not included in their climate change adaption plan. I didn’t mention this specifically in my research proposal which I am only realising now, but I did mention it in the interview and I believe this gave my research project proposal possibly the strongest and most tangible impact of all the applicants.

No need to write a full paragraph for requirements, timeline, and sources. These chapters made my proposal look more professional. I used 6 sources which were all academic (no news articles or Wikipedia).

Work with your supervisor to improve your proposal and send it to friends and family to make sure it’s understandable.

How was the application process?

There is a personal part of your Laidlaw application, which includes a personal statement and a Leadership in Action Experience Statement. See below what is asked from your personal statement.

Personal Statement: Please provide a personal statement on how you wish to develop as a leader and what difference you want to make through leadership (300 words max.)

Your personal statement requires ego dissolution and strong self-awareness. You must objectively acknowledge your strengths and weaknesses, and have a solid understanding of a) why you’re doing Laidlaw and b) what you hope to get out of Laidlaw. I’m a morally conscience and a somewhat sheltered person who’s incredibly lucky to have had such great parents who have supported me with their time, money, and love to get me to where I am today. I’m in a position where I don’t have to get a job, don’t have to take care of kids or a loved one, and have very few responsibilities that I can’t get out of. This allows me to spend my time on self-development and satisfying the top 2 of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (esteem & self-actualisation), and Laidlaw will help me achieve those things by developing my leadership skills so I can maximize the positive impact I leave on the world. Leadership is an important part of this, so if you don’t really understand leadership you should understand that first. I didn’t realise what leadership really was but when I did learn, I knew I wanted and could become a great leader. If you’re just doing Laidlaw because it would be good for the C.V. you’ll have to be a really good liar and spend a lot of time on this, but really you should use this to reflect on if you’d really enjoy Laidlaw, because if you don’t then (in my opinion) you’re definitely better off spending your time in an area you enjoy working, which is where you will produce your best work. 

The Leadership in Action experience has all the same requirements as the personal statement, but it’s more specific. The personal statement is the ‘why’, and the Leadership in Action experience is the ‘how’. My why was self-esteem and self-actualization, and my how is through building my digital marketing and leadership skills, because that’s where my strengths lie in and it’s what we need right now with all this ‘fake news’.

I actually submitted my thing like 30 minutes late because I had a meeting with my supervisor Susan on the 27th which was a Monday and also the day my research project and cover letter were due to be submitted and I procrastinated making the changes she recommended until like 23:50 that night and I was screaming in my room in Trinity Halls because I had put so much time into making the actual research project proposal and I thought it was all gonna go to waste because of the slow Wi-fi but fortunately it got submitted. I didn’t hear anything about it for ages, other than an email saying I got invited for an interview, which would be with the Laidlaw programme co-ordinator Joel McKeever from the TCD careers office and 2 scientists who are somewhat involved in Laidlaw. I had to make a PowerPoint about myself that I could present to them in 3 minutes and answer their questions about my research project. I was pretty honest in my PowerPoint and put a lot of effort into it. I made a flowchart that showed how I would decide what Leadership in Action experience I would undertake in the Summer and photoshopped myself into a ‘The Interview’ movie poster. In the interview I could tell they hadn’t actually read my research project proposal because the questions they were asking were made up on the spot, so a great way to prepare for this interview is a) make your PowerPoint personable and trustworthy and b) explain your research project proposal to your friends and parents and siblings and answer their questions and if your friends don’t understand it or think it’s stupid, the interviewers probably will too. The Laidlaw programme aims to develop leaders with moral character and the ability to make an impact, so mention how you want to be a leader and use Obama or Nelson Mandela or Gandhi or somebody with really high approval ratings as an example.

How has your disability impacted your Laidlaw experience?

There is a lot of written communication involved in the application process and the programme itself once you get in. I was able to use Grammarly for free thanks to the Disability Service and I had my supervisor proofread my application, but I can’t get someone to read out my emails for me and tell me what information is in them. I missed the first induction event because of this which caused a bit of hassle but nothing serious. There is a lot of self-organisation required in building a successful application which I found challenging, especially during the application as there wasn’t anybody making me do the work or telling me how, and since it was in a domain I was uncomfortable in (writing) I procrastinated, delayed tough decisions and challenging work, and almost didn’t make it into the programme. 

As someone with an atypical mindset, the freedom I was given in choosing my research topic was crucial. Had I been forced to pick a topic I wasn’t interested in or had I picked a topic I thought would give me a fancy complicated research title in hopes of improving my odds of being accepted into the programme and bolstering my CV, I most certainly wouldn’t have made my research project proposal as passionate nor as in-depth as it was. My topic was something I had an esoteric understanding of and feel strongly about, which shined through on my application with the help of my supervisor (and Grammarly).

Invisibles of Trinity -Part V

college, disability, exclusion

Having Epilepsy is an everyday challenge; since I can have a seizure attack anytime and anywhere – it could be absence seizure or tonic-clonic seizure. It could occur during lectures or while I am just walking or even just having lunch with my classmates. Plus it could happen more than once in a day and could last for a few seconds or even up to thirty minutes. 

I am thankful Trinity College made me feel welcomed and valued – where I can have extra time for my assignments, additional time for the exams, an exam venue with fewer students and I am permitted to defer my placements. 

Although my illness is unpredictable and uncontrollable, I am not letting it control me. To those who have a disability, yet still determined, I salute you!

Sean talks about his journey through access programmes to first year undergraduate

autism, college, disability, exclusion

My name is Seán Maguire and I am currently a student at Trinity College Dublin studying applied Biomedical Science in the field of Human Health and Disease, and I have a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder.

I graduated from the University College Dublin through an access programme offered by the university for a level 6 Diploma Continuing Education which involved Science, Engineering, Agriculture and Medicine (SEAM). I never had a proper education beforehand since I dropped out of secondary level school when I was fourteen and had to be homeschooled. This gave me a lack of academic and social skills I could have learned if I stayed in second-level education, however, due to my disability at such a young age I couldn’t handle the number of people and social interaction. When I reached the age of eighteen, I realised that I needed to do something proper with my life and so I embarked and registered on a course with the Open College which is an online college who gives out educational packages for minor QQI certificates.  For my first cert, I was awarded a 94% Distinction in Anatomy and Physiology, and after successfully completing and being awarded that cert I felt some confidence within me that I never felt before in my life.  So after I completed the course I went ahead and registered with Geopace Allied Healthcare since I felt like I would be better suited in the field of the healthcare industry since I liked the idea of helping people. I studied Introduction to Phlebotomy which was a level 3 OCN Certificate and then furthered onto studying Advanced Phlebotomy and Cannulation.  After completing this I felt that since these are adult qualifications and also professional healthcare qualifications, I might just have the confidence to pursue a course in access to science. I never knew there was an access course until my sister showed me and that I did research on my own to know what exactly it was.

Going through everything and looking back at my accomplishments I applied for the access program then I was offered an interview later on which terrified me, but I built up the courage to attend the interview since I didn’t want to back down from my future. The access course was for one year part-time and had three lab sessions: one for Biology, Chemistry and Physics which was a lot of fun to attend.  The entire core of the course involved also Mathematics I & II, study skills, scientific enquiry and work experience which I was lucky enough to have complete in the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital. After I finished my access course, I was then offered to attend a graduation ceremony and when I got on stage and shook the hand of the president of the university and received my Diploma, it was a very momentous and proud feeling. I fully felt I could achieve third-level education.

When it came to deciding what course I wanted to choose in third-level education of course I decided I wanted to do Medicine and become a medical practitioner since I had an interest in the idea of being a leading role and strategist in the healthcare field as a professional. I felt as though I might not have been ready for Medicine in the beginning, I felt I should apply for a course in the biomedical field of science which I did but I also came across a course called Human Health and Disease. When I was interviewed for the course it was very intimidating but very worthwhile attending, there were eight doctors interviewing me and the head associate professor. And throughout the interview, they asked me several questions relating to past work experience, education, disability since I started it on my CAO which is very important, and I’d recommend any student to state it on the application.

This was just the beginning of a whole new world of transitioning.

I went to the orientation day just to make sure that I wasn’t lost in anything such as buildings, timetables etc, then we had a great speech by the Senior Tutor. But during my time there I felt really out of place, it seemed like everyone else knew each other from their previous second-level schools and there were a few mature students studying other courses, I was the only mature student in my first year of Applied Biomedical Science from what I found out when I met other students within the class. They were very friendly and nice, and many were international students, so it was interesting to know their backstory. But throughout the time they mainly stuck together in their own group, so I was on my own.

It was kind of difficult to acquire support at times due to my social anxiety and time restrictions of appointments because they would get booked up so quick. So I tried to roll with it without the support and it was the biggest mistake of my academic life. Studying in Trinity was hard at the beginning since I lacked any sort of study skills and plus it was hard for me to listen and understand due to my intellectual disability so I primarily re-read the slides and tried to memorise everything including tutorial sheet answers and questions. I think the most really depressing part of the course is when during labs my lab partner dropped out and I had no one to replace her with and I was left on my own to do both the practical and analytical writing which put so much stress and pressure on me.  and it ended up with me getting low grades.

I only lasted until February that is when I had enough and needed a break. Then I had a mental breakdown towards academic support which they referred me to the senior occupational therapist who then helped guide me through this ordeal where I met with him on several occasions and over the phone.  In the end, I told my therapist that I didn’t want to give up and so I went ahead with the medical repeat where I had my therapist speak on behalf to both the coordinator and head Professor of Human Health and Disease and to my assigned tutor. The main thing is now I feel I have a better chance and advantage over the new first-year since now I know how the university works now and what to prepare for and now since I’ve been coping well with my disability I’m able to enter into libraries without social fear and do side research on their computers but by august, I will have my own preparations I’ll have a new laptop and college equipment.

The main reason I wanted to attend a third level college is not because of some degree or getting a job after, it was to prove to others who have a disability that it is possible to achieve a higher education even for us who are disadvantaged and there is no way I’m giving up on obtaining that since I’m strong and I like a challenge even if obstacles get in the way. I know this year in 2020 I’ll have all the support I need and, in the end, when I reach that goal of graduating, I’m not going to stop I’m going to continue with my education and hopefully end up getting into graduate Medicine.

Invisibles of Trinity -Part IV

college, disability, exclusion

Having an invisible disability is a strange thing. Sometimes you think it’s glaringly obvious, like your disability is written across your forehead in permanent marker. You fear that everyone you meet is making presumptions about you, jumping to conclusions.

Other times it’s so concealed that even you question whether it’s real. There is, after all, no concrete scale to measure mental illness with. It’s easy to get yourself into a rut and convince yourself that what your illness is all made up, some sort of desperate ploy for attention. You feel ashamed and embarrassed that you can’t cope like others can. You worry that your failures are inexcusable and a reflection of your vices rather than your disability. You begin to question your self-worth and mental strength. And scariest of all, you fear that things will never change.

But there’s strength in trying and seeking support. With action comes hope.

Invisibles of Trinity -Part III

autism, college, disability, exclusion

Before arriving at Trinity College Dublin as a Computer Science student and even before my diagnosis of bring on the Autistic Spectrum I was already aware of my difficulties in social encounters, especially in group work. In conversation my “radar” is limited in picking up all the subtle messaging that we all give out and I can be too literal in my understanding, leading to confusion. Indeed it is this “literalness” I suspect is why I enjoy coding so much.

Another issue is my own personal shyness and apprehension especially with new people in so that it could be months before I feel even confident to say someone’s name or with group work to make even a basic suggestion. But with group work there are additional issues in my need for stability and certainty. Without it I enter a familiar process from feeling highly stressed to weariness and finally to resignation and withdrawal from participating. How group work can cause this is by the group being leaderless, self-doubting or the task at hand being very unclear. Steps that I have taken to address this include contacting the Course Co-ordinator with my Disability Officer to explain the issues I face and in working with the Disability Service in developing these skills I will need after I leave college into the workplace.

Only in facing our difficulties can we hope to fix them.

Invisibles of Trinity -Part II

college, disability, exclusion

Having a disability can be annoying, but so too can waking up at 2 am for a 6 am flight. However, when the Ryanair trumpets play and you lookout to see the sparkling Mediterranean, you realise it was worth getting up early for.

When you have a disability, you learn to adapt, and I often find the value of adaption leads to a greater prize. You might have to bring your lunch from home, but it’s worth it because you get to save that 5 euros everyone else is spending on fast-food.

You might have to sit up front to hear clearer, but you get way better notes to impress within the summer exams. You may have to travel more slowly than everyone else, but you get to observe the details that simply rush past. The message is having a disability can add a few more rocky steps to your climb, but once you learn to appreciate the view from the summit, the hike is worth it!

Invisibles of Trinity -Part I

college, disability, exclusion

When I first came to university, I was too shy to ask for help. I knew the Disability Service was there to aid with reasonable accommodations during exam time but I did not know what help they could offer me beyond that. I suffer from chronic fatigue, I found daily obstacles from studying and commuting to College exhausting and eventually, overwhelming. It was at this point I decided to turn to the Disability Service where I received advice on how to best manage my fatigue and learn to take day to day College life in my stride. I wish that I had come to the Disability Service earlier and would advise anyone else struggling in silence to come forward and not be ashamed to ask for help.

A positive thing rather than a sacrifice -Exclusion

college, disability, exclusion

Anaphylaxis and Asthma are serious conditions, but I have had a smoother experience than most when it comes to inclusion. Although I take them with me everywhere, I go. Most of the time, they don’t become an issue. Avoiding risk is second nature, and I barely have to think about it.

I have felt excluded many times in my life, however. I am allergic to nuts and eggs, and there have been times when someone has started eating nuts a few rows in front of me in a lecture hall. They were made aware of the severity of my allergies more than once. Similar things happened in school, which made me feel that people valued their food more than my presence in that space. To simply stay safe, I had to exclude myself from those situations.

Food is often about the social interactions you have while eating it, as much as the meal itself. For me, inclusion is when my friends and those around me ask me what restaurant I can eat in, or what food I can’t be around without making a big thing out of it. It’s about my needs being considered as much as anyone else’s, and it is a positive thing rather than a sacrifice. 

– Rachel Murphy, Ability co_op PRO 

The Google Student with Disabilities Scholarship -Daniel Kelly

autism, college, disability

Hello, my name is Daniel and last year I finished my Bachelors Degree in Computer Engineering from TCD and this year I will be starting my Masters Degree in Information Security at UCL this September.

The Google SwD Scholarship is a scholarship for 10 university students with a disability who are awarded a lump sum of €7000 towards their tuition and / or educational equipment who –

  • Have achieved excellent academic results
  • Have a passion for Computer Science
  • Have leadership skills
  • Are studying a Computer Science Degree in a European University.

How did you come across the Google Scholarship?
I came across the Google Scholarship by my membership of EmployAbility, an excellent service which assists university students with disabilities in gaining internships, scholarships and employment.

Overall, how did you find the experience of working on the application for the scholarship?
My experience of the application process for the Google Scholarship was that it was extremely efficient. Once I sent in my application they contacted me 3 times, to check I was eligible, to say I had progressed to the final round and then to say I had been awarded the Google Scholarship.

Did you face any challenges during the application process? If so, how did you overcome these challenges?
The greatest challenge I faced with my application for the Google Scholarship was twofold. First, it was the size of the application with it requiring me to submit my Resume, Academic Transcript, two references and my answers to a series of essay questions posed by Google.

Secondly, I wasn’t sure if I met the requirement of achieving excellent academic results due to my previous poor health affecting my results. This was resolved with my tutor who was one of my references clearly explaining the effect my ill health had had on my academic results.

What do you feel you took away from the experience of applying for the scholarship?
The experience I took from in applying and winning the SwD Scholarship was in learning what makes a winning SwD Scholarship application by –

  • Reading the Terms & Conditions, while this may seem boring it actually clearly stated the criteria candidates would be judged by with this allowing me to plan my application around it.
  • Making their job easy by clearly presenting the relevant information in which they judge applications. They will likely be dealing with many applications you want to make their life as simple as possible given they decide who gets the Scholarship.
  • If you require references, use references like mine who knew me very well and could speak confidently about me.
  • Use precise, clear wording, e.g. “I achieved X by doing Y as measured by Z” is what Google advises when writing an application. Also constantly refer to the criteria you are being judged for when giving examples.
  • Not submitting in haste, I spent weeks perfecting my application.

In hindsight, is there anything you feel you would’ve done differently having completed the scholarship?
If I were to apply for the Scholarship again, what I would do differently is that at the very last moment one of my references wasn’t able to provide me with one. This triggered a huge panic in me which is entirely my fault as I had completely forgotten to check if he was still able to be my reference.

However, I was, fortunately, able to find another who was available. From this experience, my advice is to check, double-check and then triple check to see that everything is in order.

Do you have any advice or words of encouragement for students who would be looking to do such a scholarship like the one with Google?
I would definitely encourage every university student with a disability studying Computer Science to apply. It’s free to apply with you potentially winning €7,000.

However, I would only encourage those students who can point to concrete examples that they meet the Scholarship criteria to apply. For example, in demonstrating my leadership skills I was able to talk about my membership of the Trinity Hiking committee and the TCD Disability Ambassador Programme.

As a recent graduate of Trinity, is there anything you would have liked to have seen from such a group as the Trinity Ability Co_op during your time in college (e.g. events throughout the year, blogs, articles, projects, etc.)?
With no disrespect meant towards the TCD Careers Service, I have found their Resume advice not helpful and incorrect. Indeed I actually devoted the 2019 Summer in learning about the different Resume formats, styles and types out there. Why I did this is that I believe both then and now that a well written & laid out Resume & Application is the difference between success and failure with my winning the Google SwD Scholarship I believe direct proof of that. The Ability co_op collaborating with the TCD Careers Service in creating effective resume workshops would be a great project.