Students with sight loss should be aware of several procedures when planning and applying for third level. In addition there are grants and funds available for students, as well as NCBI services that may be relevant.

First step: talk to your career guidance counsellor

If you haven’t already done so, it is definitely worth your while making contact with your school’s career guidance counsellor when you are thinking about going on to third level. Your career guidance counsellor will be able to talk to you about your interests and ideas about going to college. If you are not sure what area you would like to study or work in, they may give you an assessment or aptitude tests that aim to highlight particular areas you have a natural aptitude or ability for. Then your guidance counsellor can suggest particular college courses that offer you the training and further education necessary to become employed in a particular area.

Applying for third level courses – The CAO form standard admissions procedure

The Central Applications Office (CAO) is where students apply to when they wish to attend college courses in Ireland. Places on college courses obtained through the CAO system are based on points, which are awarded on leaving certificate results. This is the most common way that a student is awarded their place in college, although there are courses where applying to the CAO is not necessary, including post leaving certificate courses (PLCs). Your guidance counsellor or the CAO will be able to help you out here.

Disclosing your sight loss

If you are in your final year at school you will normally complete a CAO form and return it to the CAO office. You list your preferred courses on this form and after the leaving certificate results have come out, places are offered to applicants in August and September of that year.

When completing your CAO form, you are encouraged to indicate that you have a sight loss on page 1 of your application form or by ticking the box “disablity/specific learning difficulty” on part 2 of the CAO online application form. Although you are under no obligation to include this on your application, it would be to your advantage to do so, as it will enable your college to provide you with the specific supports necessary when you begin your course.

You will then be contacted by the CAO to complete a Supplementary Information Form, which looks for specific details in relation to your sight loss and will ask you to get an ‘Evidence of Disability Form’ completed too. You will also need to supply a medical report from your eye specialist that is no more than three years old. When the CAO receives your completed Supplementary Information Form, copies of this will be sent to all of the colleges you have applied for. The CAO state that this information will be treated in the strictest confidence.

Be assured that by informing CAO that you have a disability will not negatively affect your application in any way.

Non-standard admissions procedure for the CAO

Non-standard admissions procedure/application means admission on the basis of points achieved in the leaving certificate examination and on evidence demonstrating that a person’s disability has had a direct and substantial effect on their academic achievement in second-level education. Not all third level institutions have a non-standard admissions procedure. Check with the individual institution to establish if they use this procedure.

To be considered in the non-standard application process, you must first apply through the CAO and tick the disability/specific learning difficulty box. The CAO will then write to you for further information, which you must complete. You also need to provide the relevant documentation as requested and return it to the CAO before the due date.

Please consult the CAO by phone at 091 509800 as rules and procedures can change. There are also samples of completed forms and further information available from the CAO. Please note that we recommend that if you have any queries in relation to a CAO application or obtaining your place in college, contact the CAO directly.

Contact the colleges in advance

Contact should be made with the colleges you are interested in attending, to find out what support services each institution has to offer. Many colleges have open days so it is worthwhile taking advantage of these and meeting with the disability support service in the college at this time before completing your CAO form. Most colleges have a disability support service within the college to provide support for students with disabilities while they are attending college. The CAO’s supplementary information form is sent to you from the disability support service.

A third level disability support service can often provide assistance with:

  • Non-standard admissions
  • Assistive technology
  • Liaising with the examinations office and other personnel in the college
  • Learning supports

The disability support services within third level institutions are committed to ensuring that students with disabilities have access to the wide range of experiences that college life has to offer. They encourage students to disclose their disability and make contact with their service so that they can assist students by meeting their specific requirements. It is up to you how much contact you have with the disability support service.

By making contact with the college and finding out as much as possible about your intended course, such as details on reading requirements, amount of laboratory and field work and lecture set-up, you will be best prepared and informed. Gaining this information will help you decide on what specific supports you will need. It is important that you are proactive when taking these steps in preparing for and commencing third level.

Have a technology assessment

For many people with sight loss assistive technology can assist them with carrying out tasks that they would otherwise find difficult. For students who are vision impaired or blind attending college, there are many different pieces of technical equipment that can facilitate students with independent learning. Screen readers such as JAWS and screen magnifiers such as ZoomText are computer programs commonly used by people in college.

The disability support service within your perspective third level institution sometimes offers a technology assessment or information on specific technology you may require for your course. NCBI also has a technology assessment service, which can support you in identifying what equipment best suits your college needs. Again is important that you arrange to have your technology assessment carried out well in advance of starting college.

What financial supports are available for third level students with sight loss?

There are a number of funding options available to students with sight loss who are attending third level. Contact the Grants’ Office in the institution you are applying for to see what funding you may be entitled to apply for. Some of the following funding options may be available to you:

Fund for students with disabilities

This is one of the main sources of funding available for students with disabilities and it is administered by the National Office for Equity of Access to Higher Education and the European Union. This fund is specifically designed to provide financial aid for assistive technology and personal assistants for students with disabilities.

When you register with the disability support service in your college and have had your needs assessment carried out, the service can apply for required equipment under this fund on you behalf. It is not a direct financial grant and any equipmemt purchased under this scheme will become the property of the college. This grant is not means tested and is available for students at both undergraduate and postgraduate level.

Higher education grant for third level

All third level students can apply for this grant. It is not designed soley for students with disabilities. It is a means tested grant and is administered by local authorities. A means test calculates all of your financial resources. The grant usually covers students who are attending a third level course full-time. As well as your fees being paid by this grant, a maintenance payment can also be paid to a student where their income supports are very low.

Other financial benefits

Other benefits may include an education allowance, blind persons’ pension and disability allowance. To find out more information about entitlements to students contact your local social welfare office. Your local NCBI community resource worker will also be happy to assist you in making any applications.

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