Irish Studies at Trinity College, Dublin
As a student of the works of James Joyce, I had wanted to visit Ireland for some time. My home university strongly encourages foreign study, so I concluded early in my college career that an academic experience in Ireland would be essential to my understanding of Irish literature.
Although my university does not sponsor a study abroad program in Ireland, the campus center for international study proved helpful in referring me to various institutions that do. The options were numerous but I had specific goals for my study abroad experience that only the New York University (NYU) Irish Studies Program satisfied.
I enrolled in the NYU in Dublin Summer Study Abroad program because it offers an annual six-week summer semester at my desired location, Trinity College in Dublin, as well as the courses I was interested in, Irish literature and language.
I also knew that, as an American entity, NYU was subject to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). At the time of my application for the program, I was unfamiliar with Ireland’s policies toward people with disabilities, and students in particular. Since I am severely disabled with cerebral palsy, which inhibits my mobility, I preferred to work through an American university while in Dublin.
NYU worked with me to accommodate my disability-related needs. Before my departure, I contacted the Henry and Lucy Moses Center for Students with Disabilities on the NYU campus to explain my classroom needs. The center arranged for me to have extended time on examinations and offered to provide a note taker for lectures. I was pleased to discover that the center was receptive to me supplying a note taker of my own selection.
I also contacted the director of the NYU in Dublin program to discuss my housing requirements. Trinity College has wheelchair accessible dormitory rooms on campus, but during my stay they were being remodeled and were unavailable to me. Based on my adaptive needs, the program director located an appropriate and comfortable apartment near the Trinity College campus, which included some modern amenities, such as a washing machine and dryer, but was lacking in others. Upon arrival, I found that, in particular, the shower/bathtub needed extensive remodeling.
Because of my needs, I was housed separately from the other students in my program but I lived with students in an affiliated NYU program. The disadvantage of this placement was that it involved a daily 15-minute walk to campus and it limited socializing with my classmates, who were living nearer each other on campus. I later toured one of the accessible rooms being remodeled on campus, and observed that it was located in a historic building and not as comfortable as where I was living.
The sacrifice of comfort and accessibility in favor of historic preservation arose frequently during my stay in Ireland. The Trinity College campus has a lot of cobblestone, which presents a bumpy and uneven path between classrooms. The campaign to install a smooth path for wheelchairs and walkers faces resistance from heritage associations and the outcome remains uncertain. Beyond the campus, many other streets are also paved in cobblestone. Most of the sidewalks are narrow and crowded. Although present, curb cuts are steep and not guaranteed on all corners of an intersection. Many tourist attractions are located upstairs in older buildings that lack lifts. In this case, the advantage of enrolling in a group program like NYU in Dublin is that other participants are often available to assist in carrying a wheelchair up steps. Some of the oldest attractions on the NYU itinerary were completely inaccessible to me. However, the program leaders warned me about these barriers and consulted with me to plan an alternative activity.
Initially, some problems with accessibility were due to insufficient communication. In the United States, accessibility is defined precisely by the ADA, leading the NYU staff and me to assume that a place claiming to be accessible would meet the standard we were accustomed to. We discovered that we needed to ask specific questions about a building to determine its accessibility. For example, one hotel used by NYU had a ramp into the building but the path from the lobby to the rooms and restaurant required descending a staircase with five steps. Based on experiences like this, I recommend familiarizing oneself with a country’s legal code regarding disability and access prior to traveling there and making specific inquiries about accessibility.
As a disabled person living in Dublin, I had the opportunity to explore the situation for the native disabled community. I quickly discovered through Internet research that Ireland has organized many services and resources for people with disabilities. One of the most helpful public organizations was the Irish Wheelchair Association (IWA). In addition to wheelchair repair and rental, the IWA provides accessible transportation within Dublin, catering specifically to the clients’ needs. This particular service, called Vantastic, allows clients to reserve a wheelchair accessible minibus and driver, providing door-to-door service with advance notice. It is free to Irish citizens and is available to foreigners for a reasonable fee. Minibus taxis with wheelchair access are commonly available to hail on Dublin city streets but, unlike Vantastic, cannot be reserved ahead. A number of public buses in Dublin are equipped with lifts and wheelchair tie-downs, but the routes and frequency are unpredictable. Intercity transportation is generally more accessible by train than by bus.
Personal assistant referrals are also offered by IWA. Anyone may access IWA’s list of care providers that can be hired privately, and it was easy for me to locate an appropriate caregiver with this service. Students affiliated with Trinity College, whether enrolled directly during the school year, or through a program, as I was, may also consult Trinity’s Disability Liaison Officer for a roster of graduate students interested in working as academic and personal care assistants. Trinity College students, including eligible foreigners, receive a stipend from the university to hire caregivers for the number of hours they require help. Americans who study abroad and receive personal assistant funding through their home states may have the additional option of bringing along an assistant from home or recruiting an American abroad, depending on local state policies. I availed myself of a combination of an assistant funded by California’s In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) and an IWA assistant I hired privately, thereby smoothly meeting my extensive need for personal assistance.
For such a small country, Ireland has a wealth of programs that support people with disabilities, and I was equally impressed by the attitude of the Irish people toward disability. The people of Ireland are hospitable and open-minded, which explains their willingness to assist people with disabilities in overcoming existing physical obstacles present. The combination of public agencies, the sentiment of the Irish people, and the flexibility of the NYU in Dublin faculty made my first overseas experience successful and rewarding. Ireland provided a good first experience for study and travel abroad because the culture is at once unique in a way that offers a foreign experience but familiar enough to negotiate with a disability.