Letters in the time of COVID-19

4 Nov 2021
Research participants, letter writers and staff representing National Learning Network and University College Cork. Photo By Tomas Tyner, UCC.

The challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic experienced by young adults with disabilities in Cork are documented in a recent study at University College Cork. Loretta Sweeney, a BA Social Work Graduate, collaborated with The National Learning Network in her final year research project supervised by Hillary Jenkinson, School of Applied Social Studies.

The project entitled 'Letters in the time of Covid' explored the impact of COVID-19 and related restrictions on students of The National Learning Network during 2020 and the beginning of 2021. Roslin Treacy, a teacher in the National Learning Network Cork, conceived of the idea to document this experience through the medium of letter writing. The twelve participants provided contemporary accounts of the effect the global pandemic and ensuing lockdowns had on their lives. These letters were the primary data that provided the themes and analysis presented in the research.

Loretta Sweeney spoke of the experience of completing this CARL project:

"The great positive of undertaking a CARL project is knowing that the research carried out directly comes from and potentially impacts ‘real people’. In particular this piece of research provides documentation of an unexpected global event through the lens of disability. People with disabilities, as was highlighted in this research, have historically been marginalised, discriminated against and overlooked. This research ensured the voices of the participants were directly quoted and were integral to the research.

I hope that this piece of research may in some way highlight the challenges of young adults with disabilities during the pandemic. Documenting these experiences should inform how we as a society make sure a more inclusive approach to the reopening of society. Revisiting this cohort post the pandemic is vital. I hope this piece of research might inspire UCC students to work with CARL and potentially the National Leaning Network in the future. I found the process inspiring and educational and hopefully of use to the participants in this research in highlighting their experiences and voices."

Roslin Treacy, teacher at the National Learning Network Cork, comments:

"COVID-19 changed and challenged the world. However, its impact did not affect all people equally. For the students of the National Learning Network COVID-19 is not solely a health concern, but a life changing experience that worked to dissolve all forms of student supports from educational, social to key working and psychological support. 

 The National Learning Network is a training centre and works with young people with disabilities. NLN champions a person-centred approach to training and development. This approach is a necessary and successful way of working with our students. However, this approach proved difficult to uphold during the pandemic. Throughout the pandemic, many service professional aired their valid grievances. However, we, at NLN, feel it is of equal importance for our students to voice their concerns and experiences. 

 "Letters in the Time of Covid" is an act of self-advocacy for young people with disabilities. The letters were written in real time during the lockdown period. The project began as an art-driven research project whereby all students, regardless of ability, could utilise an artistic vehicle in order to communicate. The students’ letters are honest, raw and brave. NLN are so grateful to UCC and Loretta Sweeney for giving our student's voices an academic platform where they may make a difference. Loretta's excellent dissertation utilises the data from the student's letters to highlight the impact of Covid on vulnerable members of our society."

Civic & Community Engagement

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University College Cork, Cork, Ireland,