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Past Scholarship Winners: Where Are They Now?

Editor's Note: In 1997, Peg Mercer was granted a scholarship by the National Federation of the Blind: Advocates for Equality (now the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians) in order to attend the National Federation of the Blind’s (NFB) Convention in New Orleans. Here, Brenda Cooke, Editor of the Canadian Blind Monitor, writes about Ms. Mercer’s thoughts and experiences. : Kimberley Brownlee received two scholarships from the National Federation of the Blind: Advocates for Equality (now the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians) in 1999 and 2000 while she was attending McGill University. As a mature student, Helen McFadyen was the 2009 recipient of AEBC’s Alan H. Neville Memorial Scholarship.

Peg Mercer, British Columbia

Since 1997 when Peg Mercer attended the Convention of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) in New Orleans, she has attended additional NFB meetings, several other blindness-related conferences in the United States and about ten in Canada, including some with the NFB:AE/AEBC.

Meeting new people and getting reacquainted with old friends are only a couple of the reasons that Peg cites for going to conventions. “It is particularly helpful to be able to socially mix with conference goers, as that is a good way to find out how others live and handle blindness-related matters. Another benefit is sightseeing in the different conference locations.” It is clear that Peg likes to travel and knows how to get the most out of each opportunity.

Peg says that, besides keeping up to date with blindness-related issues, conventions allow one to see first-hand the latest in assistive technology at conference exhibits. She is further intrigued by the different approaches to blindness issues, saying, “Some organizations are quite laid back and some are quite militant.” When considering the differences between Canadian and American conferences, Peg says that, although she wasn’t sure why it would be, she couldn’t help noticing that the traffic flow at American conferences seems less chaotic, even though there are hundreds more blind people with and without long white canes and guide dogs.

Peg is quite sure that, if it hadn’t been for the financial assistance that she received in 1997 to attend the NFB Convention, she might not have become as involved in the blind consumer movement and might not have learned the benefits of going to conferences. The feeling of empowerment gained by being in a place where blind people were the majority is still one of Peg’s fondest memories. Even though it is not always easy, it is OK to be blind. She would like to see Canadians work a little more on instilling that approach to blindness.

Although Peg does not consider herself to be a hard-core activist, she supports the movement by continuing to do what she can behind the scenes; thus, she is presently the Treasurer for AEBC’s Vancouver/Lower Mainland Chapter. One issue she remains passionate about is accessible household products, so she has joined the AEBC committee that works on that issue.

There is no doubt in Peg’s mind that she is fortunate to have been able to maintain full-time employment as an administrative assistant for the same employer for over twenty years--work she likes very much. Within the next five years or so, Peg hopes to retire and continue to go on vacation cruises with her friends, another form of travel that she enjoys.

Kimberley Brownlee, Quebec

It is a pleasure to express my thanks once more to the AEBC for the two scholarships I received during my undergraduate years at McGill University. After earning a BA in Philosophy from McGill in 2001, I completed first an MPhil in Philosophy at Cambridge University as a Commonwealth Scholar, and then a DPhil in Philosophy at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. My doctoral thesis examined the moral status of civil disobedience. I have since revised this work in a book entitled Conscience and Conviction: The Case for Civil Disobedience, which is forthcoming with Oxford University Press:

My areas of specialization are moral and legal philosophy. My current work focuses on practical reason, ideals, rights, conscience, conscientious disobedience, punishment and retributive justice.

In 2005, I became a Lecturer and then in 2010 a Senior Lecturer at the University of Manchester. In January 2012, I will take up an Associate Professorship in legal and moral philosophy at the University of Warwick.

The issues that animate the AEBC have informed some of my recent philosophical work. In 2009, I published a co-edited collection of essays entitled Disability and Disadvantage for Oxford University Press. The collection aims to advance debates on moral and political issues concerning disability, and to explore how the experiences of people with disabilities can lead us to reconsider prominent positions on normative issues. The thirteen original essays in the collection examine the concept of disability, the conditions of justice, the nature of autonomy, the applicability of different principles for health-care distribution, and the ethics of reproductive choices. I co-edited this volume with Adam Cureton (University of Tennessee) who, like me, has a personal as well as a philosophical interest in the ethical questions of disability. The contributors to the collection include both internationally renowned voices and up-and-coming scholars in practical ethics and bioethics:

I congratulate the AEBC on its 20th anniversary.

Helen McFadyen, Nova Scotia

I must admit that I was a little anxious when I began the Master of Divinity program here at the Atlantic School of Theology (AST) in September of 2009, but the fact that I was going into this without an undergraduate degree was offset by the fact that I had years of experience as a freelance writer. My portfolio convinced the school to give me a chance and grant me admission, and they have not been disappointed. I have maintained an “A” average throughout and received strong endorsements from placement supervisors. Almost three years later, I am pleased to find myself halfway through the final year of this rigorous graduate program for aspiring ministers.

An authentic “call” to ministry is difficult to explain. It’s not really something you can shy away from or deny. You’re kind of stuck with it and must slog ahead, no matter what the obstacles. I could have taken up to seven years to complete the program, but at my age I saw the value of pressing on to finish it within the minimum three years. The fact that I learned to love academics so much after 25 years away from undergraduate school (which I did not enjoy, do well at, or complete) is also surprising. It was my work placements as an Intern in Spiritual Care at the local hospital and physical rehab centre that really served to confirm my call to ministry. It has not been an easy road to travel, but my keenness has helped me stay focused and on task. Working 16- or 18-hour days became a less gruelling practice. Besides, at my age, there is little appeal in goofing off or partying in the school’s residence where I live!

The biggest challenge for me was monetary, as theological school is expensive. Travel to denominational interviews and related programs in the United States also turned out to be very costly. For a time, I worried that I would not be able to afford to continue. Thus, awards such as the Alan H. Neville Memorial Scholarship from AEBC were vitally important and kept me going. Other scholarships and awards also found their way to me. Combined with Canada Student Loans and Study Grants for Students with Permanent Disabilities, they enabled me to make it through.

In September of 2012, I will begin a one-year Residency program in Spiritual Care at a hospital, hopefully in Halifax, so I can continue to live here. I am in the community ministry stream and this residency will serve as my Internship for Unitarian Universalist Ministry, the denomination into which I seek to be ordained.

All through graduate school, my guide dog, Opal, has been with me. She will walk up the aisle at convocation on May 5th with me and accept her diploma and cookie, while I take hold of mine (minus the cookie). Sadly, this will probably be her last public function. She will retire in May and I will retrain with a new guide dog. At times, life’s changes can be both exciting and difficult!

Blessings to all.