The leaves are turning and weather is getting cooler. Many students are returning to campus for their studies and looking forward to the social and recreational life that comes with their academic pursuits. For students with cerebral palsy, there may be a few extra considerations about how to achieve their fullest potential inside and outside the classroom – but it’s still an exciting enterprise!
The transition back to academics this fall has been a challenging adventure for 30-year-old Surrey resident Karan Bola. Karan is embarking on a two-year Master’s program in Library and Information Studies at the University of British Columbia. Since she took a three-year hiatus from academia after completing her undergraduate degree in Psychology and a minor in Counseling, she feels it will take some time to readjust back to the school environment. She expresses that the academic lifestyle is very structured and there is always an assignment due or something to read, so she has had to manage her time effectively.
Karan, who lives with spastic diplegia (a type of cerebral palsy which affects two limbs), worked as a Project Manager for a Cognition Psychology lab prior to graduate school, where her role was to manage a long-term research study. She mentions that the position enabled her to develop a lot of managerial and organizational skills.
She enjoyed those aspects of her job and decided to take the next step to pursue a higher form of education. Though she has not yet had to submit any assignments for the three classes she is taking, she feels that she can push herself to do better as evidenced by her undergraduate program where she had a high grade point average.
Building confidence and relationships
She hopes that same drive for excellence will help her to complete her Master’s program. In terms of being social, Karan shares that she was very shy when she started her undergraduate degree and thinks that was reflected back as people were more reserved about approaching or talking to her. She believes that it comes down to confidence and being able to put yourself out there to approach people and talk to them.
“I think it’s just in the beginning when people don’t know who you are or they see that you have some sort of a disability or you use a mobility aid, and they might just be unsure as to how to interact with you or what to say because they’re afraid of saying the wrong thing,” Karan says. “But then again, once you get to know someone, you know that changes and people start seeing you as just another person in the class.”
The UBC Master’s student is looking to take full advantage of the school facilities, including the University’s recreation centre and gym facility, but hasn’t decided which student club to join yet. She also says that she has talked a lot to her classmates within the school setting since classes have begun and expresses that that they seem like a “pretty cool bunch of people”, so she doesn’t feel like establishing friendships will be an issue.
Karan enjoys the fact that she gets to meet interesting people and that she is just one of many Master’s students trying to further her education. She states that it’s a good feeling knowing that she can reach out for support.
“It’s an inviting campus,” she remarks. “Their Access and Diversity Department which is for students with disabilities – they’re very approachable and willing to talk. They have excellent services there.” Karan quipped that the accessibility in the Irving K Barber Learning Centre could use improvement, noting that the washrooms only have handles on them, no electronic buttons, and tend to be locked. This causes the student to use the regular washroom which doesn’t have an electronic button and the accessories of a handicapped washroom. “In terms of physical access and getting in doorways, that’s been a challenge,” says Karan.
Drive to succeed
When asked if there is anyone she looks up to at school, she points to her former professors at Kwantlen Polytechnic University as a driving force, commenting that the way they interacted with students and taught their subject made her admire them and pursue academics. “Hence why I’m also here doing my Master’s because I love the academic setting and the sense of community and just being able to challenge yourself intellectually,” she states. CPABC wishes Karan all the best in her schooling.
For students in BC, the Cerebral Palsy Association of BC offers a Tanabe Bursary which is a scholarship to students living with cerebral palsy pursuing post-secondary education. Please contact us to find out how we can help you reach your goals.