Tuesday, November 01, 2016
Stock shot of a young girl enjoying her school days.

Stock shot of a young girl enjoying her school days.

A new advocacy group has been formed in Cork, called Is Mise. Its founder, JESSICA NÍ MHAOLÁIN, says they hope to provide advice and support to those with special education needs

IS MISE Jessica Ní Mhaoláin. It translates to I am Jessica Ní Mhaoláin. It was one of the first sentences as Gaeilge that I learned in the Naionra. Psychologically, learning the presence of the words ‘I am’ is probably one of the most important fundamental teachings for a child. It is a fundamental sentence we all learn, but it is also our most primary personal slate to write on — who we are, who we can be, and who we will be.

This is the thinking behind the name of Cork’s newest education advocacy group, Is Mise. As the founder of Is Mise, I had identified a number of shortcomings in the special education system over the last number of months.

Furthermore, I have first hand experience of the fight it takes to navigate the system which is near impossible to do as a parent when you are already dealing with a diagnosis you may not entirely understand. Parents not only need information on their child’s rights under educational law, but they also need to be able to support each other and share experiences. A diagnosis of a disability, or a learning difficulty can be isolating for a parent — what will my child do? How will this affect my child? Can my child succeed?

In the 1990s and 2000s, I was a child who struggled to learn in a system that was designed to support the education of children without special educational needs.

Even at 24 years old now, I can recognise that battling my way through the education system and trying to locate the support services I needed is probably one of the hardest battles I will ever come up against in my life.

Equally, it has probably been one of the most difficult experiences my parents have ever gone through.

I have a genetic disorder that has effected me all my life — occulocutaneous albinism. I am registered as blind with the National Council for the Blind. In simple terms; I can only see the very first letter on the doctors eye chart; I have a continuous involuntary eye movement that prevents me from focusing while I read; and I’m very sensitive to light.

During my time navigating my way through the education system, there was little or no information there for me. In 2015 I completed my Masters thesis, which focused on the provision of services for children and students with special educational needs. During this time I discovered that the information vacuum I witnessed first-hand for over 20 years was unfortunately still in place for many of those struggling through the education system. I am determined that this will not be the case for others. We have the legislative rights to these supports, but we can’t always locate these services.

The aims and objectives of Is Mise work in three interconnected streams. We are here to provide advice, advocacy, and support for parents and students with Special Education Needs.

Advocacy and Advice:

The advocacy and advice work is about informing parents of their child’s educational rights under the law.

Parents often feel very isolated when they are dealing with a new diagnosis or trying to find information on educational resources for their child.

We are here to assist parents in navigating this side of education assistance.

Parent-to-Parent Peer Counselling

The peer counselling is a programme we are hoping to create where parents of children with varied disabilities and educational needs will be able to talk and connect with each other.

National Lobbying and Advocacy

We will also be lobbying and advocating at a national level on behalf of people with special educational needs.

Our group is recently founded and there has been great interest so far. The committee is growing but we are still in our early stages of formation. We will need as much support and input as possible from so many different streams in society. We are hoping to form a solid committee of parents, special needs assistants, teachers, and anyone else with an interest in educational equality for the children that cannot always fight for themselves. The education system was founded to ensure our children could receive a good standard of education. The United Nations and other human interest groups have consistently told governments across the world that education can support people to lift themselves out of poverty.

Is Mise is needed. We as a society cannot allow this information vacuum for our most vulnerable to continue. The Special Education System in Ireland can be difficult to navigate at times. Is Mise is here as a support to parents and students who are trying to find help in the system. We also operate as a support system for parents who would like to share their stories. We are here to remind children, their parents and guardians that these children are, these children can, and these children will. Is Mise cannot grow without the help and support of others. To get involved email [email protected] or see Facebook at www.facebook.com/ IsMiseAdvocacy

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