Last Friday, RTÉ aired the first episode of their new series My Uni Life. The series follows seven students with distinct personal challenges as they navigate university – one of whom is Trinity’s own Courtney McGrath.
McGrath is a final-year business and sociology student whose journey to college was different to that of her peers. Speaking to The University Times, she explains that she was diagnosed with mid-frequency hearing loss, “which meant that [she] would struggle to hear everyday conversations”.
She got her first hearing aids when she was just five years old. In transition year, McGrath underwent a procedure which implanted an electronic hearing device into her ear. “My cochlear implants completely transformed the way I was able to hear”, she says, noting that when she removes these implants, she is entirely deaf.
In 2017, McGrath obtained a place in the highly competitive BESS degree course in Trinity. While studying for her leaving certificate, she had the added task of preparing her application for the Disability Access Route to Education (DARE) scheme, which secured her a place on reduced points. She now emphasises her gratitude for the DARE scheme “for providing this option to students with disabilities”. “They took into consideration that my hearing loss impacted my education in second-level”, she says.
“Just because you cannot see a disability does not mean it is not there or it is not as important.”
In My Uni Life, McGrath shares her experience of securing a place in university despite her hearing disability. The documentary-style series highlights the importance of Access programmes such as the Higher Education Access Route (HEAR) and DARE in providing equal opportunities to everyone in education. Looking back, Courtney found the experience of taking part in the series rewarding: “I am now more confident in my ability to speak on my experiences and raise awareness of disabilities.”
Something that McGrath highlights in the series is her experience of living with an “invisible disability”. When discussing this issue, she includes people who have dyspraxia and anxiety, among other invisible disabilities, saying: “It is not clear to others that we need support.” McGrath sometimes finds herself explaining endlessly to people that she does, in fact, have a disability – she is “almost trying to justify [it]”, she says. “Just because you cannot see a disability does not mean it is not there or it is not as important.”
McGrath served as the Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union Officer for Students with Disabilities last year, a position she now looks back on with fondness: “I thoroughly enjoyed the role as I worked alongside other students with disabilities and became more aware of their challenges.”
With this experience gained, she established the Trinity Ability Co-op in May 2020 with the help of other students with disabilities. The aim is “to work together towards the promotion of inclusion across campus”. McGrath describes the presence of these inclusive bodies within universities as “vital”. “We are simply experts by experience”, she says. “For real change to happen, college bodies must listen to us and our needs.”
McGrath encourages anyone facing a unique struggle in their journey to third-level education to have “determination and self-belief”, and to remember that “anything is possible”.
Courtney McGrath’s episode of My Uni Life will air this Friday on RTÉ One at 7:30pm.