New gift opens doors for students with disabilities at Niagara College

Steve Hudson (Niagara College VP Academic and Learner Services), Amber Adkins (student), Dan Patterson (Niagara College president), Meaghan Bowler (CIBC District VP), and Lianne Gagnon (Niagara College director, Student Services), hold a cheque from CIBC that will support a new CIBC Accessbility Scholarship, and assistive technology and devices at the College. Niagara College photo.

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

Niagara College has announced a two-year pledge of $50,000 from CIBC to support students with disabilities. Half of the gift 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 other half of the gift will fund assistive technology and equipment, which help students with a range of disabilities integrate seamlessly into their classes.

“We applaud CIBC for making support for persons with disabilities a key priority, and are grateful for its investment at Niagara College,” said Niagara College president Dan Patterson. “By helping us to enhance the supports we offer our students who self-identify with a disability, this gift helps us remove barriers to ensure equal access to education for all students.”

“We are pleased to support an organization that shares our vision of advancing both innovation and inclusion,” said Jonathon Dent, senior vice president and region head, Ontario West, CIBC. “Through this donation toward Niagara College’s assistive technology, in addition to funding scholarships for students with disabilities, we are proud to continue our commitment toward helping equip students with opportunities for academic success.”

According to Student Services director Lianne Gagnon, 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.”

Such support includes assistive technology such as Kurzweil 3000, Read&Write, and Dragon NaturallySpeaking that can be installed onto students’ personal computers. These provide a range of learning assistance, from reading textbooks aloud in seven languages to matching a professor’s instruction with specific PowerPoint slides. Assistive devices such as FM systems help students with hearing impairments or attention deficits by blocking out distracting noises in the classroom and enable them to hear to their instructor through earphones.

According to Gagnon, assistive technology helps to “level the playing field” for students with learning differences, while scholarships are a critical factor to student success and retention. She noted that students with disabilities may often require more years in college to complete their program on a reduced course load, or may be unable to work part-time due to a number of factors.

“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,” said Gagnon. “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.”

For Business Accounting student Amber Adkins, assistive technology was a game-changer. The Niagara Falls resident faced challenges in the classroom due to a learning disability and, after visiting NC’s Accessibility Services, was equipped with assistive technology, including Kurzweil software.

“The software has helped me focus my studying and my grades have improved more than I could ever imagine,” said Adkins, who thanked CIBC for making the donation to NC. “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.”