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Breaking Barriers: Realizing a New Vision for Legally Blind Student

Chemical Physics student Ryan Cole featured on Canada in Perspective


One Trent student’s journey to pursue a degree in the field of study he loves most, despite the restrictions of a personal disability, is helping to change the landscape of learning for future students and was recently highlighted in an episode of Canada in Perspective, a broadcast show which explores issues related to accessibility and inclusion.

Ryan Cole, who has been legally blind since birth, but has limited vision, came to Trent over four years ago to study Chemical Physics. He chose Trent largely because the contacts he made early at the University assured him they could find ways to assist him in his educational pursuit.

As a student entering university with an impressive 95% average, Mr. Cole was welcome to attend whichever school he chose, but the larger universities who boasted about their top science and math programs all gave him the same response: “They told me I was welcome to come, but that they didn’t really know how to deal with a student who is legally blind who wants to study science,” Mr. Cole recalls, remarking on the rarity of students with disabilities pursuing degrees in the sciences. He notes there is often a tendency to steer them into the arts and social sciences. “There isn’t really a braille option for quantum mechanics,” Mr. Cole quips.

A subsequent survey conducted by Professor Emeritus Dr. Alan Slavin of the Trent Physics Department, Mr. Cole’s first-year instructor, also revealed how unique Mr. Cole’s situation is. According to the survey, there has been only one other legally blind student has studied university physics in Canada in the last 12 years.

“Like other universities, Trent didn’t directly know how to accommodate for my needs, but unlike the other universities, Trent’s response was: ‘We’ll do whatever it takes,’” Mr. Cole says. “It was like a breath of fresh air.”

That willingness to “do whatever it takes” has led to a world of new opportunity for Mr. Cole at Trent. Support, guidance and funding from the Student Accessibility Services Office has translated into the discovery, purchase and application of new technology that has allowed Mr. Cole to take his own notes as well as conduct vital lab work on his own, both for the first time. Mr. Cole is currently an M.Sc. student in the Materials Science graduate program at Trent University and is a teaching assistant to undergraduate Physics students.

» Watch the Canada in Perspective episode highlighting Mr. Cole and learn more about how Trent accommodates students of all abilities

Posted on Wednesday, July 6, 2016.

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