Accessing Education“I find it difficult socially sometimes, the whole acceptance, I think, of people with disabilities.”

As heard on The Ryan Tubridy Show

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 “Why do you think,” Ryan Tubridy asked Mei Lin Yap this morning, “that people who don’t have an intellectual disability find it so hard to mix it up with people who do have one? Do you think it might be fear?” Mei Lin, a graduate from the Trinity Centre for People with Intellectual Disabilities, agreed that fear could be a reason – fear of the unknown.

Mei Lin was on the radio to talk about the challenges facing people with intellectual disabilities accessing third-level education. 31-year old Mei Lin lives at home with her mum and her dog, Murphy. She works in CPL Recruitment Agency and, she told Ryan, she absolutely loves it. She’s a swimmer and has represented Ireland at the Special Olympics. That’s the executive summary of Mei Lin’s background. Ryan asked her about going to school. She told him she loved mainstream school, but found it hard going at times:

“I think the toughest was when I wasn’t getting enough supports. I had some supports in secondary school, in my third year, when I was doing my Junior Cert. I had lots of support for that.”

Despite the challenges – and Mei Lin described the issue of acceptance in school as “interesting” – she told Ryan that school was special for her:

“I loved school, I really did. I felt like it was home.”

Ryan wondered what Mei Lin’s dreams and ambitions were when she left school. She told him:

“At the age of 14, I always knew what I wanted to do as a career and that is to public speak.”

The first opportunity she got to speak in public was at Mountjoy and Wheatfield Prison, where she addressed the inmates – at the request of Special Olympics – and told them about her journey. As she describes it to Ryan, it was challenging, but ultimately, it seems, something she took in her stride, as she said of it:

“It was quite an experience, I must say.”

Mei Lin went to Trinity College, Dublin in 2008. One of the societies she joined there was the Trampoline Club (cue “it has its ups and downs” gag from Ryan), which left her feeling a bit of an outsider, as she didn’t know anyone. How did she get past that, Ryan asked.

“I just went in, just did it… I find it difficult socially sometimes, the whole acceptance, I think, of people with disabilities.”

After college, came the search for employment, something that isn’t easy for people with intellectual disabilities. Mei Lin got in touch with a lot of prospective employers, but she didn’t have much joy. When people got back to her at all, their response was underwhelming:

“The common response was, ‘I’ll keep you on file. I’ll keep you in mind.’ There was a lot of that.”

To hear the whole conversation with the very determined Mei Lin – including her plan for coping with pub crawls – and Hugo McNeill, former Ireland rugby player and now ambassador for Trinity’s Centre for People with Intellectual Disabilities, listen here.

Niall Ó Sioradáin

© The Listener 2020

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