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Two Jennifer Laura E. Wilson Memorial Scholarships awarded during the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians (AEBC) AGM weekend (April 28-30, 2017)

Two Jennifer Laura E. Wilson Memorial Scholarships, recognizing courage in overcoming adversity and selflessness in helping others, were awarded to two outstanding candidates – Ben Fulton and Stuart Matan-Lithwick

“My beloved sister Jennifer was inspiring by her selflessness and willingness to devote her life to immunology in the hopes of helping find cures for others. Although she was unable to achieve her dream because of her impairment, these scholarships in her name are to help others achieve theirs,” her sister Deborah Wilson said.

Deborah added: “There were so many worthwhile candidates for my sister’s memorial scholarships, contributing in many ways to the lives of others. I just wish across Canada that others would join me in helping them achieve their dreams in whatever field they choose. They are so deserving.”

Ben Fulton

Ben Fulton is presently attending Osgoode Hall Law School, pursuing a legal education leading to a Juris Doctor (jD)

Ben is very active in the community and his activities are many and demonstrate his commitment to his community and the law. Last year, Ben founded a club for Osgoode law students with a specific mandate to ameliorate the position of blind and visually impaired students, to increase accessibility, teach people how to do things without the ability to see, and encourage his peers to defy expectations in every way. He has organized guest lectures with members of the blind community, including David Lepofsky, an adjunct professor at Osgoode who was lead counsel in a successful lawsuit against the Toronto Transit Commission to have an auditory signal to announce the stops on buses and trains.

During the 2016-2017 academic year in addition to his role as Legal & Lit Secretary, he also signed on as an Upper Year Mentor, an Osgoode Peer Supporter, a Student Ambassador, and an Orientation Week leader, introducing new students to Osgoode and orienting them to life in law school, both on campus and off.

Ben is currently completing the Intensive Program in Poverty Law at Parkdale Community Legal Services (PCLS). This is a unique opportunity offered to 20 students in each of the fall and winter semesters. Ben is working in the housing division of PCLS, which advocates for tenants facing eviction, tenants who are dealing with disrepair issues in their rental units, and tenants who are experiencing other disputes with their landlord. Osgoode is very proud of its involvement with PCLS and they are very proud of Ben’s accomplishments there.

Ben feels that a career in law carries with it a commitment to society. Ben’s own words are worth quoting in full:

“...the reason I am pursuing a career in law is because I feel that the law should involve the community. My desire to promote inclusion and participation in community involvement is the impetus for my understanding of legal theory.

Through my work in various community organizations I have worked to increase community involvement, participation, and inclusion. I have worked with organizations to increase accessibility, to promote awareness and to encourage others to participate. I feel that through a deep commitment to community involvement various members of society can contribute to the creation and maintenance of a healthy community, and that is why it is important to encourage the participation of a diverse range of individuals. Community involvement has the potential to promote positive change, and that is why it is so important to me. I appreciate the many chances I have had to give back to the community and I am grateful for the opportunities I have been blessed with."

Stuart Matan-Lithwick

Stuart is presently attending the University of Toronto, pursuing research and study in Laboratory Medicine & Pathobiology

Stuart’s career goal is to become a principal investigator, running a bioinformatics research laboratory

Stuart’s story is inspiring!

In September 2013, Stuart began doctoral studies in the Department of Laboratory Medicine & Pathobiology at the University of Toronto. What has made Stuart's journey unique is that he is a patient with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), a genetic disease characterized by progressive vision loss.

Stuart was first diagnosed with RP in 2002. Approaching the end of his Masters studies, he says that he was interested in pursuing a career in optometry. To learn about the field, Stuart scheduled an informational interview with an optometrist. After answering all of his questions, Stuart recalls that the optometrist had him take on the role of a patient, to demonstrate first-hand what the work of optometry would be like. Within seconds of looking into his eyes, the optometrist diagnosed Stuart with RP. This was the first time that Stuart had ever heard of RP, so not surprisingly, the diagnosis came as a shock.

Rather than seeing this as an end, Stuart considered this to be a new beginning. For the next 10 years, Stuart went on a journey of discovery. For many of those years, Stuart worked as a high school Biology teacher. Convinced that a career in science would now be impossible, Stuart would instead share his passion with others as an educator. But he always dreamt of somehow returning to research. Recognizing this desire, his students pushed him to find a way.

In September, 2013, Stuart's dream became a reality. He began a PhD at the University of Toronto, studying the biology of retinal degeneration in a laboratory at the Toronto Western Hospital. At the time, Stuart did not fully comprehend the challenges that he would face as a graduate student with reduced vision. As a result, after 18 months of study, Stuart had to accept that a career as a bench-based scientist would no longer be possible. Rather than concede defeat, he instead chose to search for a more suitable environment. After 3 months, Stuart found a new home in the bioinformatics laboratories of Dr. Gary Bader at the Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research, and Dr. Michael Taylor at the Hospital for Sick Children. Unlike any other scientific discipline, as a bioinformatician Stuart would be able to remain a scientist whether or not he could see.

Stuart reports that it has now been nearly 2 years since he joined the Bader and Taylor labs. With the enthusiastic support of his supervisors, and with vital accommodations in place, Stuart has thrived in his new work, studying the metastasis of medulloblastoma, the most common malignant brain cancer in children. Outside of the laboratory, Stuart has also remained a vocal advocate for the blind, speaking at conferences for the scientific community and the public.

Stuart says that he does not consider his RP to be a disability. For him, his vision loss has served as a valuable catalyst for change. Through having to adapt to a continuously shrinking visual field, Stuart has learned humility, empathy, resilience, and an unshakeable conviction that with the support of family, friends, and colleagues, no goal need ever be out of reach.

Disclaimer:

This blog is curated by the AEBC, but welcomes contributions from members and non-members alike. The thoughts, views, and opinions expressed in the Blind Canadians Blog are those of the contributing authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the AEBC, its members, or any of its donors and partners.
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