Dublin City University is aiming to become Europe and Ireland’s first autism-friendly campus through a unique collaboration with AsIAm, the autism support and advocacy service.
The University is beginning an 18 month programme to create a learning environment that allows students with Autism and Aspergers to take part fully in college life, and also to gain employment afterwards.
As part of this project AsIAm held an ‘Understanding Autism’ workshop in the University’s student union as well as an Autism Experience Exhibition in the Helix in which attendees could experience some of the side effects of living with Autism.
President of the Student’s Union in DCU, Dylan Kehoe, who attended the exhibition described how attendees were put in the shoes of someone who suffers from autism by undertaking a number of challenges whilst wearing equipment that hindered your dexterity.
“It really makes you realise how important a solid support system for Autism sufferers truly is here on campus and that’s exactly what we are trying to do,”
“Next week is Autism awareness month and we will receive a report back from AsIAm which will outline what DCU needs to do in order to make a fully accessible and autism friendly campus.”
He also said that there had been a certain amount of training provided for clubs and societies in this area however it would be more beneficial earlier in the year when clubs and societies were more active in attracting members.
Adam Harris, founder of AsIAm and disability advocate said that the aim of the project is to help students with autism transition to third level and ultimately to independence by creating a more inclusive atmosphere in college, and helping with their transition to employment.
“Working with Dublin City University, we can create a social, commercial, academic and cultural environment which is wholly inclusive. If we succeed, more people with autism will remain and succeed both at third-level and subsequently in work.”
“It is about having a conversation, finding out what people are having difficulties with and about getting those who don’t have autism to meet those who do, half way.”
His vision of an autism-friendly campus would include quiet spaces to which people may retreat when they need to get away from noise, campus signage to aid navigation in a visual way, and training for lecturers to help them understand how people with autism process information.
Funding of €50k has been received from the Dormant Accounts Fund to develop the pilot project over the next 18 months. The project will begin with an extensive consultation period from January to May 2016 which will collate data on the current experience of students with autism on DCU campuses, the level of awareness amongst the staff and student bodies and establish target goals for DCU to meet to receive autism-friendly campus designation.