For Ciara McGeough, an interest in disability activism was instinctual. She started to lose her hearing at fifteen years old, something she began to realise when she received a B in her Junior Cert music exam. “It’s nearly like hearing through static”, she explains over email. “I hear most things, but in order to understand what is being said, I would have to lipread as well. Or if the person can sign, even better.”
“I was the first person to be exempt from the music listening Leaving Cert exam paper”, she reveals. “Through advocating with local senators and the Minister for Education at that time, the State Examinations Committee finally agreed to the exemption of the music listening paper. That accommodation now exists because of the fight I fought alongside my teachers and politicians.” After that, she became a part of the Youth Advisory Panel in Jigsaw, Ireland’s National Centre for Youth Mental Health. She also volunteers frequently with Barretstown, a camp for children with cancer and other serious illnesses.
McGeough has now assumed a position as the Graduate Intern for Trinity’s Disability Service for the upcoming academic year, having recently completed a Bachelor in Deaf Studies. “When I found Deaf Studies on the CAO, I instantly knew it was the only course I wanted”, she recalls. “Learning about the history of the Deaf community has been amazing . . . As I only became Deaf as a teenager, I was never exposed to sign language or anything Deaf related until college.” Now, she says, Irish Sign Language (ISL) is her preferred method of communication.
“The Disability Service is here for the whole college”, she says. Whether you identify as disabled or not, she assures, the Disability Service will be able to assess your case and recommend a solution. “There is absolutely no harm in asking”, she insists.
As the Graduate Intern, McGeough feels she can use her own experience to advocate for students with disabilities. One of her responsibilities will be the promotion of the Disability Service and the supports it offers, ensuring each student knows that help is available. “The Disability Service is here for the whole college”, she says. Whether you identify as disabled or not, she assures, the Disability Service will be able to assess your case and recommend a solution. “There is absolutely no harm in asking”, she insists. “The worst that can happen is, they may refer you to another department who can help, so it’s a win-win”.
Last year, the Disability Service relocated to the newly-built Printing House Square, a move McGeough credits as “an amazing addition to the services already provided”. The DisAbility Hub now offers students and societies “accessible spaces” to meet and hold activities within the new development. Already, McGeough has established “strong student partnerships” with Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU), the Central Societies Committee (CSC), and Trinity Sport. “They are all interested and eager to learn about making student life more accessible”, she confirms. “This is to ensure students feel welcome in all aspects of college life, not just within the DisAbility Hub.”
In particular, McGeough highlights TCDSU Ents Officer Olivia Orr’s expansion of the Ents committee to include a dedicated Accessibilities Officer, a position now held by Charlie Howard. She calls the creation of the position “an excellent step forward for the college community”. In the first week of September, she will train the CSC officers on improving inclusion within societies. “I am really looking forward to being a part of the change in the college community”, she says. She hopes her work will help to secure inclusion “in every aspect of college life, to ensure each student can participate in all parts of their student experiences”.
McGeough also expresses an eagerness to build upon the work of Courtney McGrath, a business and sociology graduate and the first Graduate Intern for the Disability Service. McGrath was responsible for the foundation of the Ability Co_op, which, according to McGeough, is “a group of students who actively advocate for accessibility and inclusion in all aspects of student life”. Previously, the Co_op has organised initiatives to improve the graduate employability of students with disabilities, and provided awareness and accessibility training to Trinity’s clubs and societies. In her capacity as Graduate Intern, McGeough will be the main staff contact for the student-led group, liaising between the Co_op members and the Disability Service. She references the inclusive student guidelines booklet created by the last Graduate Interns of the Disability Service, and stresses her intention to promote it throughout the college “to ensure all students will have equal opportunities training for inclusion in college life”.
“The sheer volume of resources required to enable staff within the Disability Service to provide the level of support needed to all students can be difficult”, she explains. She emphasises the need for collaboration between the Service and the wider college community, particularly clubs and societies.
While optimistic, McGeough remains prepared for the challenges she may face as the Graduate Intern. “The sheer volume of resources required to enable staff within the Disability Service to provide the level of support needed to all students can be difficult”, she explains. She emphasises the need for collaboration between the Service and the wider college community, particularly clubs and societies. This, she says, “will help create an inclusive campus for students so those registered with the Disability Service do not feel isolated or confined to the DisAbility Hub”, consequently reducing the strain on the Service. She believes that the anxieties faced by students with disabilities entering the college will be alleviated by “a more inclusive and welcoming environment” within the clubs and societies on offer. “Ultimately, we want to create a welcoming environment, not just here within the DisAbility Hub, but within the wider Trinity community”, she continues. “My role within the Disability Service will help move towards a more inclusive Trinity.”
Students engaging with the Disability Service can look forward to International Disability Week in December, which the Service will celebrate with their annual art exhibition “open to the whole disabled community in Trinity”. As well as this, the DisAbility Hub will offer drop-in groups for students with autism, and another for students with ADHD. The Ability Co_op, meanwhile, are working on a number of projects, including an “unofficial guide to Trinity”, intended to help students with “various disabilities” navigate the campus, “keeping in mind their sensory needs and preferences”. In the same vein, TCD Sense has recently published a “very comprehensive” interactive map of the campus, highlighting the sensory spaces available to students. The map details features such as the noise levels and capacities of buildings across the campus, and offers information about the electrical outlets available and whether or not food or drink is allowed.
Already, McGeough’s dedication to making education more accessible for students with disabilities has yielded significant results. As she works to create a more inclusive campus environment, she calls upon students to engage with her efforts towards collective progress. Beyond encouraging students to take advantage of the available supports, she urges students to get involved with the Disability Service and contribute to the ongoing improvements. She refers to the Ability Co_op as the “perfect example” of a platform through which students can participate: “With students’ own experiences, bringing this to the committee or the subcommittee of the Co_op will help the Disability Service improve over the years to come”.