New law removes barrier for disabled PhD students but more action is still needed says DCU student

Michelle Cullen

New regulations have been signed into law by Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys that will remove a barrier facing PhD students with disabilities but barriers for people with disabilities still exist says a DCU student.

The new regulations known as ‘Catherine’s Law’ following the media attention given to DCU student, Catherine Gallagher’s case will mean scholarship awards will no longer be included in the means test for Disability Allowance.

The law will be effective from September 1st of last year.

Despite this move forward there are still a lot of barriers for students with disabilities according to one DCU student.

Ria McGuire a third-year student with a disability said: “Even though I think it’s great that this barrier has been removed for Catherine and any future students, it still frustrates me to believe and see that there are these barriers still active in society when it comes to disabled people.”

Catherine Gallagher was awarded a scholarship to carry out her PhD for Dublin City University after coming first in her master’s class.

Gallagher contacted the Department of Social Protection and was told that by accepting the €16,000 given as a part of the scholarship she would lose her disability allowance and associated travel and medical card allowances.

“We are in the year 2021 and the consideration and basically the planning and organisation towards disabled people is still very lacking and although this barrier was removed and [Catherine] was able to get her allowance there is still so many barriers that people in the disabled community face,” said McGuire.

Minister Humphreys said the Government want to encourage and help people with disabilities to further their education and remove barriers in their way.

“I really think the government need to reassess their system to try to figure out what other barriers are in place that they need to remove so people who don’t have full ability can still integrate into society and feel welcomed,” McGuire said.

“These barriers really separate disabled people from perusing their dreams or their wants because they feel that it’s not possible.”

After signing the regulations Minister Humphreys said: “Along with Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris, I intend to meet with key stakeholders such as the Disability Federation of Ireland, AHEAD Ireland and the Union of Students of Ireland (USI) to discuss this further in the coming weeks.”

Gallagher told the Irish Examiner: “I really feel for the students who have come before me, who haven’t been able to avail of this new legislation and who were penalised.”

Michelle Cullen

Image Credit: DCU