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Getting political: The experience of students with intellectual disabilities in University politics

Zoe Hughes, National Institute for Intellectual Disability, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland
Co-author(s): Brian Higgins, Emma McCormack, Una Healy, Wayne Kenny, and Molly O'Keeffe


Being a student on the first full-time third level course for adults with intellectual disabilities in Ireland is not without its challenges. College life, for 'mainstream' students can be hard to navigate successfully, which is why colleges have a Students Union to work for the students, to make their college years enjoyable and enable students to get as much out of these crucial years as possible.

The Trinity College Dublin Students Union (TCDSU) is made up of officers and class representatives. These representatives are elected by their peers to represent all students on a given course, and these reps have functions such as sitting on the SU council, being the link between academic staff and students, and organising social events for the students. Having recognition and a voice in the wider community is something that people with disabilities can struggle with.

The students on the Certificate in Contemporary Living course (CCL), the first full-time third level course in Ireland for adults with intellectual disabilities, have held elections to elect their class reps that will sit on the TCDSU, and also sit in staff meetings of the Institute, to have a voice and a say in how their course is structured. Two class reps and one entertainments officer were elected.

Using participatory research methods, these three class representatives gathered information on what their job entails. Using the Photovoice technique, they took photographs that highlighted different aspects of the job, and from that took part in a small focus group where they discussed their six most pertinent photographs to answer the research question- what is it like to be a class representative? They were also, with their permission, observed in their roles by a staff co-researcher, who then discussed that data with them. Thirdly, the class representatives interviewed each other on their experiences and views on being a class representative, and how, if at all, it has enabled them to have a louder voice in the college community.

The students themselves will present their findings to the conference.

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