Equal Ed is the working partnership between Western Care Association and Galway/Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT)’s Castlebar Campus. The main focus of this partnership is to enable people with learning disabilities to sample the experience of participation in third-level education. This pilot project is funded by the European Union.

GMIT was set up in 1995 as the Castlebar campus of the former RTC Galway. There are now 500 full-time and 790 part-time students on campus. The mission of GMIT Castlebar is to promote regional, economic, technological, social and cultural development by the provision of higher education programmes which meed defined needs, involvement in community development activities, involvement in research, development and activities supportive of industry, developing the institution and deploying its resources in an effective, efficient and economical fashion, fostering the growth and development of all people associated with the college.

Fourteen adults from Western Care’s Vocational Training Centre in Castlebar have participated in Access. This is a foundation course offered at GMIT which is aimed at smoothing the pathway into third-level education for mature people. Personal development, English, maths and computer studies were undertaken by the Western Care participants, alongside other Access students. Year Two includes computers and link-up with other courses, heritage studies and outdoor education for fieldtrips.

The Equal Ed project, with its emphasis on an integrated setting, is the first of its kind in Ireland. This has enabled Western Care students to get information first-hand and to become involved in the social and leisure aspects of college life. The project marks a way forward in breaking down barriers by providing equal opportunities in education for the learner with a disability.

This partnership is also reinforced in the way that GMIT staff and Western Care staff have worked together. This has been achieved by developing course material and in GMIT staff commitment in providing a training facility that is accessible to all.

The students were awarded certificates in 1998 and are working towards additional certificates in the second year. All the group are extremely proud of their achievements. Participating in the course has made lots of changes to their lives and dreams for the future. Equal Ed has two parts: along with the course itself there is a social side and the groups went to various social events throughout the year.

The Equal Ed project has been a huge success. Here are the comments on the course and the whole experience, from the people who put in all the hard work:

Frank Gilmore: ‘I learned new things that I never tried before. More fun, feel brainier and a lot wise. I like going out an odd night when I’m not working and I really enjoyed some of the social nights.’

Noel Lydon: ‘The course made me feel great, I loved computers. I also really enjoyed the social nights out, especially the discos.’

Noel O’Toole: ‘I learned a lot of local history and computers. It made the whole year really special. The other students in the class were really nice and made it better. The nights out made life more interesting, meeting new people, mixing and being independent.’

Willie Nolan: ‘I felt I learned a lot about personal development and computers.’

Irene McLoughlin: ‘I feel more confident now in everything I do. I enjoyed everything about the course. I really liked having other people in the class. Spending my own money was a great thing.’

Patricia Basquille: ‘The year and the course made me very confident. It was great to go out and meet people. It made my life very good and I am better now at meeting people and I have more interest in getting out and about now. I thought the lectures in computers were very good and I learned how to use a computer for the first time. I was nervous about starting the course as I thought I wouldn’t be able to do computers, but I can work away at them now. It was lovely to have other students in our class. I went on all the nights out and had a great time.’

Paul Charlton: ‘Computer lectures were brilliant. I met a lot of people in the college. I liked being in the college.’

Christopher Dunleavy: ‘I am glad I did the course, I think I learned a lot.’

Martin McLoughlin: I met lots of different people. I love it all. My mother is buying me a computer for Christmas.’

Matt O’Malley: ‘It was a very good year. I enjoyed personal development and computers. I learned a lot. I feel good about myself- I met lots of new people. Nights out were great, night time is usually quiet, so it’s lovely to get out for a few pints and a cigar.’

James Roughneen: ‘I thought the course was very fine and so were the nights out. I enjoyed it all.’

Barbara Mylchreest: ‘The college is a lovely place, very quiet. I loved tea breaks. I bought tea and scones in the canteen.’

Mícheal Joyce: ‘GMIT is good. I like the college. I really enjoy the nights out. I prefer to go out rather than stay at home and watch TV.’

Willie Carson: ‘I am enjoying my first year in college and hope to continue it. I love computers, it’s my favourite class and I like learning about different places. I love all the nights out.’

All the group felt their confidence increased; they became more independent, spent their own money and travelled to college on their own.

Many thanks to all the staff and students of GMIT for making the year fantastic.


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