New gift opens doors for students with disabilities

CIBC’s $50,000 pledge to fund assistive technology, student scholarships

Students with disabilities will have access to more supports at Niagara College, thanks to a gift from CIBC.

On November 9, CIBC announced a two-year pledge of $50,000 to the College to support students with disabilities. Half of the gift will fund assistive technology and equipment, and half will establish the CIBC Accessibility Scholarship, which will provide 10 scholarships of $2,500 each to students registered with the College’s Accessibility Services.

The news was announced at an event at the Niagara-on-the-Lake Campus,organized by Development and Alumni Relations, drawing staff from CIBC and representatives from the College’s executive team, Health and Wellness Accessibility Services, Student Services, and more.

“We’re pleased to be here for today’s event to show our support for a postsecondary institution that strives to help all students pursue and achieve their academic dreams, no matter their differences and abilities,” said Meaghan Bowler, district vice president, CIBC. “At CIBC, we foster a strong commitment to inclusion and diversity, and creating a culture where people’s differences are not only accepted, but valued.”

President Dan Patterson addresses guests at the gift announcement, held on Nov. 9 at the NOTL Campus.

College president Dan Patterson thanked CIBC for the gift on behalf of the College.

“We know that CIBC supports people with disabilities and it is a key priority; they really model what so many more organizations need to do,” he said.

Here at NC, Patterson noted that Accessibility Services plays a vital role in three of the College’s main drivers – creating an unparalleled sense of student satisfaction, its strong economic development mission to support the major sectors of the economy, and offering the best learning environments in the country.

“Our access mandate – helping people by ensuring equal access to education for all students by helping to relieve barriers for their academic success – really pervades those three success factors,” he said.

Patterson also applauded Accessibility Services staff for the work they do to support students with disabilities.

“Our dynamic team of counsellors, technology and learning specialists, academic advisors, faculty, and support staff, care deeply about creating a welcoming and inclusive environment for all our students,” said Patterson. “They work hard each day to provide our students who self-identify with a disability, with the supports and accommodation they need to be successful.”

Eliminating obstacles, opening doors

Director of Student Services Lianne Gagnon speaks about the impact CIBC’s gift will have at the College.

Student Services director Lianne Gagnon spoke about the impact the gift will have at NC, enabling more students with disabilities to access education. After working in the field of disabilities for her entire career, she said she knows “all too well” what can happen when students do not have access to scholarships or assistive technologies.

“Doors are closed, opportunities denied, and education isn’t accessible,” she said.  “And that’s why your [CIBC’s] gift to us today is all the more poignant, because I know what can happen without it.”

Gagnon noted that approximately one in six NC students self-identify as having a disability – from auditory disabilities, visual impairments, and mobility impairments, to mental health challenges. Last year, 160 students accessed more than 300 different forms of assistive devices at NC.

“This really illustrates the critical need for us to ensure that we have the proper supports in place so our students can thrive while they’re here with us at NC,” she said. “With this announcement, we can provide even more.”

Assistive technology, “levels the playing field” for students and minimizes barriers so they can have a complete college experience, gain confidence, and more independence, noted Gagnon.

Assistive software and devices help students with a range of learning disabilities integrate seamlessly into their classes. The new assistive software – including Kurzweil 3000, Read&Write, and Dragon NaturallySpeaking – will be installed onto students’ personal computers, and provides a range of learning assistance, from reading textbooks aloud, to audio recording lectures and matching a professor’s instruction with specific PowerPoint slides. Assistive devices such as FM systems will help students with hearing impairments or attention deficits by blocking out distracting noises in the classroom and enable them listen to their instructor through earphones.

Gagnon also highlighted how scholarships are critical to student success and retention, particularly for students with disabilities who may require more time to complete their program with a reduced course load, or may be unable to work part-time in addition to their studies.

“Attending postsecondary for students coming out high school, can be challenging at first. They have new responsibilities, new schedules, they’re meeting new people and for the first time, they’re gaining financial and personal independence,” she said. “That’s challenging enough, but a student with a disability can have that compounded with more obstacles. Scholarships and technologies help to eliminate some of those obstacles.”

‘I constantly felt left behind’

For Business Accounting student Amber Adkins, assistive technology was a game-changer.

The Niagara Falls resident, who has completed the Health Services Administration diploma and certificate in Dental Office Administration at the College – shared her personal story about the struggles she faces in the classroom due to her learning disability, and how Accessibility Services at NC has helped her along her academic journey.

Reading and writing have been a particular challenge.

“When I was in class, I constantly felt left behind,” she said.

She struggled in high school, but enrolled in NC’s Health Services Administration program to pursue a career in the medical field.

“I wanted to go to college and train in in a career for something that would help others,” she said.

When she found herself having trouble keeping up with some of her classes, one of her instructors recommended that she visit a counsellor in Accessibility Services. After meeting with a counsellor and receiving a learning assessment, staff equipped her with Kurzweil software on her computer, which allows her to upload all of her reading materials and have them read back to her.

If she has trouble with a word, she can highlight it and the program will help her understand it, or pronounce it. She also uses a program that allows her to audio record her classes and match everything her professor says with PowerPoint slides, enabling her to review the material later.

“Assistive technology has made a big difference in my academic career,” she said.

Now, her grades are much higher and she achieved a spot on the honour roll while recently completing her Dental Office Administration certificate at the College.

“The software has helped me focus my studying and my grades have improved more than I could ever imagine,” she said. “I’m excited to go to class every day, and I’m looking forward to my future career as a financial accountant in a dental office.”

Adkins thanked CIBC personally for making the donation.

“Your generosity will make it possible for many more students, like me, to feel excited about coming to school every day, and excited about our future careers,” she said.

Student Amber Adkins (right) shakes hands with CIBC District VP Meaghan Bowler (left).