Brockville – On Monday, the Upper Canada District School Board (UCDSB) recognized International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD). The theme of this year’s day of recognition, lead by the United Nations, is “empowering persons with disabilities and ensuring inclusiveness and equality.”
Equity and inclusion is a focus for the UCDSB as well, and we are dedicated to ensuring our students with disabilities have the same opportunities.
While we have many students who require a range of special assistance in our board, Ethan Cook and Nicholas Merkley have shared their stories of how their school and classroom accommodations are helping them achieve their full potential.
Ethan, a grade 10 student at North Dundas District High School has been managing Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy (LHON) since October 2017. The hereditary condition attacks the optic nerves, blocking out portions of a person’s vision and could lead to full blindness. Ethan has lost central vision in both eyes, which is
the loss of detail vision, but he focuses on what he can do – not what he can’t.
“You can’t dwell on it,” says Ethan. “Some people go completely blind, some just lose central vision. Because of things being so early on, I have no idea what’s going to happen. I just roll with the flow.”
At school, Ethan has a dedicated learning resource teacher to help him in the classroom. He has a board supplied, dedicated computer with a special program that makes reading documents and webpages possible by magnifying the text or converting text colours, backgrounds and images to be accessible for those who are visually impaired. It even reads text aloud. His computer is also equipped with a keyboarding and typing training software that speaks and displays lessons on screen. It includes drills, practice, and typing games and is adjustable to the student’s level of skill and sight impairment.
Ethan is an action-oriented person and started a Go Fund Me campaign in April 2018 raising $17,700, which he used to buy assistive devices for home. He purchased special computerized glasses called Nu Eyes that magnify images so he can read them while walking, a special tablet that magnifies text so he can read, and a digital device that scans documents and displays the copy in a magnified version on a computer monitor.
Achieving an average in the 80s despite his personal hurdles, Ethan plans to become a computer programmer or an astrophysicist.
Nicholas Merkley, a Grade 6 student at South Edwardsburg Public School (SEPS) is another student in our school board that is having success and learning how to walk his own path to success in school and life.
Nicholas was born with Down’s Syndrome and bilateral anopthalmia – meaning he was born without eyes. At SEPS, a specially trained educational assistant and teaching specialist are teaching Nicholas to use an interactive brailler to learn to read and write. The device reads his work back to him so he can correct it.
Special education staff provide modified lessons to meet his learning goals, complete with exercise sheets with braille, felt, and other raised materials that allow him to feel this way through a lesson.
For math, the school has touch-sensitive blocks that help him differentiate his numbers into 1000s, 100s, 10s and 1s.
“It’s like living life in described video,” says his mother, Terra Merkley, of the accommodations that help Nicholas thrive at school.
Although Nicholas can’t see, he has developed an amazing memory that has shot him well past grade level in spelling, accurately spelling words that are part of the Grade 9 curriculum.
The school and family ensure Nicholas is included in intramural sports, field trips and other school events. Last year, his mother and an educational assistant took him on a year-end class field trip to Skywood Eco Adventure Park, near Mallorytown. They strapped Nicholas into a harness and assisted him in completing three obstacle
courses during the trip.
While the accommodations and devices make it easier to do his school work, what makes school enjoyable for Nicholas is the atmosphere at SEPS and the unconditional acceptance.
“Lots of his classmates have been with him since Kindergarten and there’s such a connection,” says Terra. “If his EA has to leave the room, a classmate will go over and sit with him. To them, he’s just Nicholas. His world is a bit different, but it doesn’t matter.”