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Announcing the Winners of the 2011-12 AEBC Scholarship Awards

Editor's Note: Rajesh Malik is 2nd Vice President of the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians (AEBC), and Chair of its Scholarship Committee. He teaches Psychology at Dawson College in Montreal, Quebec.

This year, the AEBC received a number of applications from highly motivated and well-deserving students, and after reviewing their submissions, the Scholarship Committee has selected two recipients.

The Alan H. Neville Memorial Scholarship for $1000 was awarded to Vytautas Bucionis Jr. of Montreal. Born in Lithuania, Vytautas is presently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in composition at the Universite de Montréal. As a highly skilled pianist, he has given numerous concerts and has many musical compositions to his credit. He takes delight in many different musical genres, including classical, jazz and folk. He is also passionately interested in the music created by birds and spends a great deal of time identifying birdsongs in nature and incorporates them in his music.

As a blind musician, he faces many challenges while studying and performing in a sighted world. Working with modern musical notation on paper is quite a complicated task for anyone, but having no vision presents its own unique difficulties. With patience, perseverance, creativity and the use of various assistive devices, however, Vytautas has managed to make this undertaking seemingly effortless, and has thrived as a student and performer. He has a GPA (grade point average) score of 4.0 to prove his mettle.

Ruby Szpeflicki is the recipient of the Rick Oakes Memorial Scholarship for $1000. Resident of Hamilton, Ontario, Ruby has faced the challenge of gradually becoming blind with determination and inner strength. Persistent hyperplastic primary vitreous affected her vision during childhood and a tumour on the optic nerve of her right eye sometime in adolescence led to a significant decline in sight. With courage, as well as the support of family and friends, she began to acquire new skills in the area of orientation and mobility and did whatever was required to live successfully as an independent blind person.

Currently, Ruby is enrolled at the Mohawk College of Applied Arts and hopes to graduate with a degree in broadcasting. Her goal in life, she says, is to “get a job in radio, have my own show and hopefully own my own radio station.” Her hard work has earned her a superb average grade of 89% so far.

Besides her academic interests, she enjoys a number of other activities, including reading and writing, listening to music and singing. In addition, she strongly believes in volunteering her time for various causes. She has planned and organized a successful fundraising event for the CNIB, has similarly helped to raise money by participating in MS (multiple sclerosis) Walks, CIBC Run for the Cure, and has supported the work of Camp Oochigeas, a camp for children with cancer.

The AEBC Scholarship Committee, consisting of Sara Bennett, Valentina Gal and I, extends its congratulations to Mr. Bucionis and Ms. Szpeflicki for winning the awards and wish them success as they continue their journey on their chosen career paths.

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.

Scholarship Winners for 2010

Editor's Note: Besides being on AEBC’s committees for Scholarship and the Canadian Blind Monitor, Valentina Gal is Secretary for the Toronto Chapter.

This year, the AEBC Rick Oakes Memorial Scholarship for $1,000.00 is being presented to Mr. Tommy Leung of Richmond, B.C. He completed his B.A. in Psychology in June 2010 at Kwantlen Polytechnic University and will be entering the Masters Program at Trinity Western University in January. His goal is to become a Disability/Crisis Counsellor.

The onset of Glaucoma and its consequences disrupted Tommy’s studies but did not discourage them. He met his mobility challenges by learning to travel with a guide dog and now volunteers with several Christian Ministries in his community. He also volunteers on crisis lines where he can share how he overcame his challenges and grief. His experiences have motivated him to help others by supporting and encouraging them.

Mr. Daniel Huang of Victoria, B.C. wins the Alan H. Neville Memorial Scholarship for $1,000.00. He is attending the University of Northern British Columbia where he intends to complete his Master of Arts in Disability Management in May. His goal is to develop a career in the field of Human Rights and the Duty to Accommodate.

Mr. Huang’s vision loss is a result of a motor vehicle accident. In overcoming his loss, Daniel not only learned to use adaptive devices such as Zoom Text and JAWS, but also learned braille. He continues his pursuits in sports by relearning to golf and ski with assistance. He is an active member of blind curling and ran the Boston Marathon. Snow boarding is on his list of what he is going to do next. He has worked with the CNIB as a volunteer and is a member of B.C.’s Human Rights Coalition.

Congratulations to our scholarship winners and my humble thanks to the AEBC for allowing me the privilege of sitting on the selection committee for another year. I am encouraged and thrilled with the quality of our applicants and their desire to improve the lives of blind Canadians.

Our Rights, Our Future: A Rights-Holder Perspective

Editor's Note: The following are notes for the President's Report delivered by Robin at the opening of AEBC's 2010 Conference and Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Montreal, Quebec.

I would like to welcome all of you to our Conference and AGM in Montreal. I am sure you will enjoy your visit here. I hope you meet some old friends and get acquainted with some new folks from across the country. Please join me in thanking the organizing committee--Anthony Tibbs, Marc Workman, Natalie Martiniello, Heather Rupert, Rosie Arcuri, Ezra Chitayat, Paulo Monteagudo--and the rest of the Montreal Chapter for working hundreds of hours to make this weekend a success.

I would also like to thank the 2009-10 Board of Directors for their commitment of valuable time and hard work to the AEBC. Each National Board member devotes many hours each week to promote the goals and objectives of our organization. Denise Sanders is leaving the Board after serving four terms, two each as Treasurer and Director Without Portfolio. She plans to stay involved on the Communications Working Group and will continue to participate with the Kelowna Chapter.

Welcome to all the new members who have joined AEBC during the past year.

To all the Chapters, I thank Executive members for their commitment to the work of AEBC. Also, I would like to thank the Affiliate for all its hard work in British Columbia. Further thanks go out to our National Committees, including scholarship, finance/fundraising, human resources, membership and policy development, and their many working groups.

I am pleased to report that, for the 2009-10 academic year, AEBC awarded three scholarships and two bursaries: The AEBC Rick Oakes Scholarship for the Arts to Mr. Allan Angus; The AEBC National Achievement Scholarship to Mr. Anthony Tibbs; The Alan H. Neville Memorial Scholarship to Ms. Helen McFadyen; The Reverend Leslie Ball Bursary for the Performing Arts to Mr. Koceïla Louali; and The Reverend Leslie Ball Bursary for Vocational Training and Trades to Ms. Stephanie Berry. Congratulations to the winners. We wish them all the best in their studies and future plans.

AEBC has been very active during the past year. Discussions have taken place over the past several months between representatives of consumer organizations of blind Canadians, CNIB, the Learning Disabilities Association of Canada and the Council of Canadians with Disabilities. These discussions have been aimed at drafting recommendations on how a new network hub responsible for coordinating access to library services for print disabled Canadians should be designed and operated. Final recommendations were submitted to Library and Archives Canada (LAC), which is drafting a proposal to be sent to Cabinet. There will be future opportunities for AEBC and individual members to have further input into this process.

AEBC’s National Board of Directors has approved these recommendations with one exception: we have a membership resolution in place stating that any entity like the one being proposed be government run and operated. This resolution prevents the AEBC from endorsing that particular recommendation; however, the Board supports the remaining recommendations.

AEBC has also been meeting with other national rights-holder organizations and CNIB to attempt to form a national coalition that will work collaboratively on common issues. The main purpose of these meetings was to build on some of the momentum established over the last several months as these and other disability groups worked on the library issue.

Everyone seemed to agree that the working relationship was positive and productive, but if it is to continue operating as anything more than an ad hoc coalition, we needed to determine and clearly articulate the structure, roles and operations of the coalition and its various member organizations. In May, the groups met for two days in Toronto, and developed terms of reference for the Coalition. Each participating organization is to discuss the outcome of these meetings, and indicate its participation in the coalition. It is expected the groups will not meet again until the fall of 2010, and in the meantime work is to begin on access to PIN-and-card and point-of-sale devices.

A resolution will be introduced to you, the members, at this Conference to endorse AEBC's participation in this coalition.

Over the past year, the AEBC National Board has been engaged in a comprehensive review of our activities. Our goal has been to determine those areas where we are most effective, and those in which our performance or effectiveness could be improved. Discussion of this review will take place at this Conference.

We also need to work on our communications strategy. The present redesign of the national website will go a long way toward addressing this concern, by collecting information on each “issue” (elections, quiet cars, education, etc.) into a central location; however, our internal communications (among Chapters, members and the National Board) also needs an overhaul. This Conference will give you the opportunity, as members, to participate in determining how AEBC will go about communicating our future activities to you. The final plan will need "buy-in" from all levels of the organization--Chapters, committees and the National Board--to be successful.

Several years ago, Donna Jodhan, our 2nd Vice President, launched a Charter case in which she is challenging the Canadian government over inaccessible websites and unequal access to information. Donna, with her lawyers and supporters, including AEBC, has been fighting to force the federal government to make its websites and information accessible and usable. Unfortunately, to date, the Canadian government has ignored all requests to settle this ongoing action. Donna's case, on behalf of all Blind Canadians, will be heard in federal court on September 21-23, 2010. The AEBC fully supports this landmark access case, and we urge members of our community to come out and show their support. (Editor’s Note: Please see “Challenging the System” elsewhere in these pages for further details and an update on the case.)

AEBC continues to submit briefs and make presentations on issues of concern. More and more, we are being recognized by all levels of government as the real voice of Canadians with significant vision impairment.

Our activities over the past year (2009-10) have included: meeting with representatives from the Office of Disability Issues re a national ID card; hosting Michel Grenier, Director of Library and Archives Canada (LAC) at our November Board meeting; making a presentation to the review of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA); a presentation on poverty to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development (HRSD); presenting Webzine on the AODA and the Accessibility Standards development process for Citizens With Disabilities-Ontario (CWDO); a presentation to the Standing Committee on Social Policy for Bill 152, an act respecting a long-term strategy to reduce poverty in Ontario; meeting with HRSD Canada Special Advisor to Minister to discuss funding, hybrid cars, electronic voting, library issues etc.; participating in Canada Transportation Agency Advisory Committee meetings; Speaking on advocacy and facilitating a workshop at the annual Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) Action Coalition Conference, entitled Leading the Way: Developing a Poverty Reduction Strategy for People with Disabilities; speaking on a panel at Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired: Taking Action on Poverty, Poor Health and Bad Jobs, sponsored by the Toronto Social Planning Council; and attending the Saskatchewan Legislative Assembly on the introduction of the Blind Voters Rights Bill.

Briefs and position papers we have submitted include: Electoral Accessibility: A Key to Equality, to the Standing Committee on the Legislative Assembly of Ontario; Status of the AODA; Copyright Consultation; National Economic Strategy, to the Standing Committee on Finance; Review of the Municipal Elections Act, to the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing; Bill 152, an act respecting a long-term strategy to reduce poverty in Ontario, to the Standing Committee on Social Policy; and Information and Communication Accessibility Standard (ICAS), to the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services.

More details on our activities can be found by visiting our website: (Editor’s Note: Also see “Headlines & Highlights” in these pages for updated information).

Finally, some AEBC members believe our organization would be more successful if we concentrated our efforts on fewer issues. This is an understandable view but potentially problematic, due to the vast number of other barriers blind Canadians continue to face daily. We, as a national organization and the voice of the blind, cannot ignore these issues. However, I believe that becoming more focused on a few issues can be achieved, as long as we still recognize there are many issues related to blindness that need to be addressed, albeit at a lower priority.

Over the past few months, the AEBC Board has been discussing the idea of trying to find three to five "issues" that we, as an organization, can prioritize so that our actions are focused and more effective. A large list of issues that matter to blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted members was drawn up primarily from the brainstorming session at the face-to-face Board meeting that took place in Toronto. We started out with a list of more than 20 items, which we then proceeded to merge and eliminate, combine and rewrite. We also recently conducted a poll among the membership to ascertain which issues you consider the most important. The results will help guide the discussions at this year's Conference.

The outcome of these discussions, in many ways, will be a difficult task for each of you to consider. The issues are all very important, and it will be hard to choose a few that deserve to have a higher priority than others. However, we need to face the question of whether we can achieve more by becoming focused.

An AEBC member is a rights-holder who inspires empowerment and addresses our rights for the future.

Each member of this organization needs to advocate and be part of the common voice of the blind. We, as a community, need to work together, speak out, and take action. We must work in our local Chapters, through our National Committee's, and as a national voice to ensure our rights are entrenched. Our advocacy must become focused, and yet we must continue to address the wide range of barriers we face.

Our rights and our future are in your hands.

Announcing Our 2009 AEBC Scholarship Winners

Editor's Note: Valentina Gal is Secretary of AEBC's Toronto Chapter and also sits on AEBC's Scholarship and CBM committees.

  • The AEBC Rick Oakes Scholarship for the Arts is presented to Mr. Allan Angus, a Dean's List student at the University of Oshawa in Ontario. Despite his retinitis pigmentosa, Mr. Angus continues to pursue his Honours Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology. Allan volunteers with both Oshawa and Ajax Town Councils with regard to Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act standards, and to projects such as audible pedestrian signals.

  • This year's winner of the AEBC National Achievement Scholarship is Mr. Anthony Tibbs, who was born with albinism and whose sight deteriorated in his final year of high school. As well as serving the AEBC as National Treasurer, Anthony has volunteered with organizations like the Council for Canadian Refugees and the Centre for Legal Information on Aging. He also has a part-time job to help make ends meet. Mr. Tibbs plans to graduate this spring from Montreal’s McGill University with his Law degree and work in law, business, technology, teaching--or some combination thereof!

  • This year's Alan H. Neville Memorial Scholarship goes to Ms. Helen McFadyen, a student at the Atlantic School of Theology. Losing her vision after age 50 due to a combination of diabetes and retinal degeneration, she is currently enrolled in the pre-ministerial program for seminarians, where she is working on her Master of Divinity. Ms. McFadyen has most recently volunteered with her local Municipality Advisory Committee for Persons with Disabilities, Tenant Appeal Board, AEBC and church. She also sings in a choir and writes a blog.

  • Mr. Koceïla Loualin is the recipient of the Reverend Leslie Ball Bursary for the Performing Arts. Employed as a journalist until he was diagnosed with Stargardt Syndrome, he now attends Vanier College where he hopes to achieve his dream of becoming a Classical guitar player, singer and composer, and go on to study at the Université du Québec or Conservatoire de Musique de Montréal. Mr. Loualin has had to learn how to use low vision aids, and English as a second language has been another challenge for him. He is a spokesperson for the Louis Braille Institute, is involved in politics, and is a soccer player and coach.

  • Ms. Stephanie Berry is this year's winner of the Reverend Leslie Ball Bursary for Vocational Training and Trades. Enrolled in the Masters of Education in Counselling-Clinical Psychology Program at the University of New Brunswick, she hopes to work in a counselling/social work capacity. Stephanie says her retinitis pigmentosa, the rural nature of her province, and the bilingual requirement of many jobs in New Brunswick have all combined to make finding employment difficult. Ms. Berry volunteers at hospitals and crisis helplines, has spoken at various groups, and interned at CNIB and the Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work. She also enjoys horseback riding and writing poetry.

Author’s Note: I would like to thank the AEBC for asking me to sit on the Scholarship Committee. It has been an honour and privilege. I am most impressed with the quality and scope of the applications. Their interests covered everything from the practical to the artistic and the spiritual to the scientific. Any one of them could have made the AEBC proud.

Photo: Allan Angus, Ontario
Photo: Helen McFayden, Nova Scotia

Supporting Outstanding Blind Scholars

The Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians (AEBC) congratulates the following four students, the 2008 Scholarship Program award recipients, for their academic achievements, contributions to their communities, and ability to challenge hardship:

Darren Minifie of Victoria, British Columbia, was the recipient of the Business, Education and Technology Scholarship. Pursuing his Master's degree in Computer Science at the University of Victoria, he researches accessibility issues related to mobile computing. Says Darren, "I use my vision impairment to identify and evaluate accessibility flaws in current technology. My future plans include working with the community to create a mobile platform that is more usable by the blind and partially sighted."

Marc Workman of Edmonton, Alberta, received the AEBC Rick Oakes Scholarship for the Arts while pursuing his Master of Arts degree in Political Science at the University of Alberta. He has served as Vice President External for the university's Campus Association of Disability Issues, a cross-disability advocacy and awareness group that he helped establish, as well as Vice President of AEBC's Edmonton Chapter. Marc currently holds the position of President of the Edmonton Chapter and National Secretary of AEBC.

Marie-Josee Blier of Opasatika, Ontario, was awarded the Toronto Chapter Scholarship. At the time, she was in her final year studying for a Diploma in Graphic Design at City College in Ottawa. As the only deaf student with low vision at the school, she used the services of an interpreter and a note-taker. Marie-Josee has held various leadership roles, such as while attending a provincial school for the deaf, where she served as President, Coordinator of the Special Events Committee, and Editor of the school newspaper. She has also done volunteer work on her town's website. She now looks forward to employment in her chosen field.

Gabriel Tremblay-Parent of Quebec City, Quebec, received the Alan H. Neville Memorial Scholarship. A student in the Bachelor of Law program at Laval University, his goal is to work for an organization that promotes human rights or defends social causes, like the Ombudsman or Legal Aid. Gabriel began losing his sight in 2004 due to Leber's Hereditary Optic Neuropathy (LHON), and in the summer of 2008 he began learning braille. He says, "This scholarship is a great motivation for me. It means I can realize my dreams. I'm now more confident than ever that my life will be full of rewarding experiences, and of opportunities to give back to others as much as I have received over the last few years."

Richard Quan, Chair of AEBC's Scholarship Committee, says, "I am very excited that there were many extremely qualified and deserving candidates who submitted applications last year. This is a truly positive statement on the achievements of legally blind students in Canada, and it bodes well for the work that AEBC does in the areas of education, access and inclusion."

Each year, the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians offers scholarships to assist outstanding Canadian students who are blind, deaf-blind or partially sighted in continuing in their field of study. Applicants must provide personal letters describing how they have overcome barriers to education and how they have contributed to their community, as well as their academic achievements. Recommendation letters cite their determination to succeed and the value they place on education.

AEBC scholarship and bursary documentation and application forms can be found on our website Alternatively, you can request an electronic copy via email at, or by phone at 800-561-4774. All questions regarding the 2009 awards should be directed to the Scholarship Committee via email at, or by leaving a message at the phone number above.

We Support Outstanding Blind Scholars!

The Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians (AEBC) congratulates the following four outstanding Canadians, the 2007 annual Scholarship Programme award winners, for their academic achievements and ability to challenge hardship:

Picture of Christine

Christine Nieder, of New Westminster, BC, is the recipient of the Campbell River Lions Club of British Columbia Scholarship. In her late 20s, she is a recent graduate from the Classroom & Community Support Program from Douglas College and is now pursuing a degree in Community Rehabilitation. She is also working on her Behavioural Interventionist citation in order to work with young children with autism. She is actively involved in campus life as a re-elected representative member of the Douglas Students' Union and as a volunteer with the student ambassador program.

Christine, who is legally blind from coloboma and also has a significant hearing impairment, loves working within the post-secondary system and would like to work as a transition counsellor for people with disabilities going from high school to college. After completing the degree in 2010, Christine plans to do some travelling, perhaps work overseas for a year or two, and gain knowledge and experience that can't ever be taught in a classroom.

Picture of Chima

Chima Andrew Akomas, of Vancouver, British Columbia, receives the Business, Education and Technology Scholarship. He is a 23-year-old who was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, but raised in Nigeria, where his family resides. In 2003, he returned to Canada to pursue his educational and career goals, and is currently enrolled in the Bachelor of Commerce program at the University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business.

Chima, who has been totally blind for the last couple of years, has Marfan syndrome, a connective tissue disorder that has resulted in numerous retinal detachments, scoliosis and restrictive lung disease. He would like to return to Nigeria to establish a world-class school for the blind and related services, and believes that his business education and work experience, coupled with his first-hand knowledge of vision loss, will help him achieve this goal.

Natalie Martiniello, of Montreal, Quebec, is the winner of the Alan H. Neville Memorial Scholarship. Blind from birth due to glaucoma and having neurofibromatosis that has required numerous surgeries and chemotherapy, she is a student at McGill University in the first year of her studies, planning to graduate with a Bachelor in social work and a minor in educational psychology.

Upon completion of her undergraduate degree, she hopes to obtain her Masters in rehabilitation teaching from the University of Montreal. She is interested in issues related to literacy and job readiness skills among persons who are blind, and in assisting those with vision loss to realize their full potential.

Picture of Deborah

Deborah Adams, of Lower Sackville, Nova Scotia, is the recipient of the AEBC National Achievement Scholarship. Currently in her 40s, she is originally from Newfoundland and is enrolled at Mount St. Vincent University, Halifax, in the Political Studies Bachelors program. She became legally blind from retinitis pigmentosa in her 20s, which ended a successful career in the Canadian Forces. She has now turned her attention to education and hopes one day to work in the field of public policy.

Says Richard Quan, Chair of AEBC's Scholarship Committee, "I am very excited to report that there are many extremely qualified candidates who submitted applications this year, which is a truly positive statement on the achievements of legally blind students in Canada."

Each year, the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians provides a minimum of three $1500 scholarships to assist outstanding Canadian students who are blind, deaf-blind or partially sighted in continuing in their field of study. Applicants must provide personal letters describing how they have overcome barriers to education and how they have contributed to their community, as well as their academic achievements. Recommendation letters cite their determination to succeed and the value they place on education.

The deadline for the 2008 awards is October 15, 2008, and the documentation and application are already on our website: Alternatively, you can request an electronic copy via email at or by phone at 800-561-4774. All questions regarding the 2008 awards should be directed to the Scholarship Committee via email at or by leaving a message at the phone number above.

2006 Scholarship Winners

The Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians (AEBC) congratulates the following four outstanding Canadians, the 2006 annual Scholarship Programme award winners, for their academic achievements and ability to challenge hardship:

Laura Bulk, of Saanichton, British Columbia, is the winner of the AEBC National Achievement Scholarship. She was born in 1988 in Victoria, British Columbia, and now lives just outside the city with her family. She was born with a rare eye condition, known as corneal anaesthesia. She is currently attending Camosun College, pursuing her degree in dietetics. After working for a few years as a dietician, she hopes to volunteer on the Mercy Ships, which travel to developing nations to offer medical aid, before returning to school for her Masters in rehabilitation and mobility instruction for adults with vision loss.

When she is not in school, she enjoys her job at a chocolate and dessert shop, where she serves as a barista, chocolate-maker and waitress. During the spring, summer and fall she works at her family's garden center. In addition, she enjoys volunteering at the local hospital, baking, cooking, scrapbooking, and spending time with her large family. Whatever the future holds, wherever she goes, Laura will continue to be an advocate for the equality of persons who are blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted.

Jacob Vaynshteyn of Edmonton, Alberta, is the winner of the Business, Education and Technology Scholarship. He is 25 years old and has been partially sighted since birth, having been born without his right eye and only reduced vision in his left one. He is currently in his final year at the University of Lethbridge, where he is studying Management and majoring in Finance. His interests include hockey, curling, computers and technology, and politics.

He has always persevered and never allowed his disability to stop him from doing anything he set his mind to accomplish. He would like to thank his sister, Lalita, and his parents, Zalman and Esfira, for their unconditional love and support.

Jennifer Dillon, of Toronto, Ontario, is the winner of the AEBC Toronto Chapter Scholarship. She is in the final year of her Honours Bachelor in Environmental Studies at York University. As an infant she was diagnosed with macular dystrophy, a deteriorating eye condition. In her teens, she was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, which has left her with only some light perception. After completing high school, Jennifer moved from a small town to Toronto where she obtained her diploma in social services and worked for several years in the disability field. She realized she had a passion for environmental issues and that her skills and talents would be well suited to the environmental profession. She therefore decided to make a career change and return to school.

She utilizes technology to excel academically and professionally and she is known to take out 20 books at a time from the library so that she can scan them at home and further her research. She is also enthusiastic about pursuing her Masters; however, she plans to first get established in her career. Jennifer hopes that her work in the field will lead to policy changes that will make pollution prevention a greater priority.

Danielle Laplante-Ip, of St. Laurent, Quebec, is the winner of the Alan H. Neville Memorial Scholarship. She would like to thank the scholarship committee, and the members of AEBC throughout Canada, for this wonderful scholarship opportunity. She is very proud to be a part of this groundbreaking organization since it gives a voice to people, like herself, who are living everyday with the social challenges of being blind, deaf-blind or partially sighted.

After the diagnosis that her eyesight was deteriorating from retinitis pigmentosa in the fall of 1998, Danielle realized that she needed to re-evaluate her life goals. Having a family history of vision impairment, she knew that she had to stay active. Consequently, in her late forties, after having raised two children, she decided to pursue her undergraduate studies in social work at McGill University, in Montreal.

This decision has brought about a lot of hard work with many rewards, as it reaffirmed a career path that she wishes to pursue in the future, working with people with disabilities. Hence, upon her graduation in the winter of 2007, she intends to pursue a Masters degree in social work and community development.

She truly has enjoyed her experience as a student. Her studies in social work have provided her with the knowledge base to advocate for the rights of people with disabilities, as she hopes to eventually facilitate their access to valued social resources.

Says Marcia Cummings, AEBC's Scholarship Committee Chair, "I am happy to say that, each year, it is harder to choose only a few winners, as there are more and more bright sparks out there working hard to obtain relevant and valuable education."

Each year, the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians provides a minimum of three $1500 scholarships to assist outstanding Canadian students who are blind, deaf-blind or partially sighted in continuing in their field of study. Winners must provide personal letters describing how they have overcome barriers to education, and how they have contributed to their community, as well as their academic achievements. Recommendation letters for each winner cite their determination to succeed, and the value they place on education.

The deadline for the 2007 awards is October 15, 2007, and the documentation and application are already on our website, (opens in a new window). Alternatively, you can request an electronic copy, via email at or by phone at 800-561-4774. All questions regarding the 2007 scholarships should be directed to the Scholarship Committee via email at or by leaving a message at 800-561-4774.

2005 Scholarship Winners

Yves Brunet of Ottawa, Ontario, is winner of the Alan H. Neville Memorial Scholarship. The 46-year-old eastern Ontarian was formally trained in the field of Business Administration and worked for the federal government until 1995. After living with HIV for seven years, in 2002 he lost most of his vision following complications and treatment for CMV retinitis after his disease progressed into AIDS. Yves is working on a Master's program in Counselling at Ottawa University and wants to use his experience to help other people diagnosed with HIV and AIDS, or who experience significant loss of vision from other diseases.

Abebe Abay Teklu of Victoria, British Columbia, is winner of the T-Base Communications funded Business, Education and Technology Scholarship. Originally from Ethiopia, Abebe became blind from exposure to smallpox at the age of nine. He attended a school for the blind in northern Ethiopia, earned a teaching diploma from Addis University, and began to teach. His involvement in the movement for freedom of speech, freedom of worship, and opposition to the military government, however, landed him in prison for a year. When he was finally released through the efforts of Amnesty International, he decided to move to Canada. Though his journey was dangerous, he helped organize a school for the blind in Khartoum, Sudan, along the way. Unable to find work in Canada due to negative attitudes about blindness, Abebe returned to university where he earned his Bachelor's degree in Social Work and Master's degree in Policy and Practice. Still unable to find employment, he changed his career goals and is currently a University of Victoria PhD student in the Faculty of Education's Department of Curriculum and Instruction. Abebe is a husband and father of two.

Quyen Le of Hamilton, Ontario, is the winner of the AEBC National Achievement Scholarship. A fourth year McMaster University psychology student, Quyen is working towards her goal of becoming a clinical psychologist. She lost her sight at the age of two and arrived in Canada as a refugee from Vietnam when she was 14. Learning English and attending a residential school for the blind in Canada were at first a challenge for her, but Quyen soon flourished in math, music and science. Now that she's at university, Quyen is actively involved in volunteer work and research projects to prepare her for graduate school. To her friends, Quyen is affectionately known as a "gadget girl" since she really enjoys using the many different kinds of technology to assist with her studies and independent living.

"It was extremely hard to pick winners from among the over 30 eligible applicants," says Awards Committee Chair, Marcia Cummings, who is based in Toronto. "All applicants had an average grade of 75 percent or higher and all were involved in community service. The Awards Committee members wish they had more awards at their disposal--there were so many great candidates this year."

Congratulations to all!

2004 Scholarship Winners

In 2004, the National Federation of the Blind: Advocates for Equality (NFB:AE) was pleased to award five scholarships to outstanding Canadians for their academic achievements and ability to meet life's challenges.

John Robert Doyle of LaSalle, Quebec, is the winner of the Alan H. Neville Memorial Scholarship. Not only was Doyle the first blind student to obtain a degree in Pure and Applied Sciences from Quebec's college system at Dawson College, he did it with an average grade of 92 percent. He continued his academic high standards at McGill University, completing a Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in Humanistic Studies and minor in Education. Battling juvenile diabetes all his life, Doyle says his wife and daughter are his two major inspirations.

Tejinder Kaur of Mississauga, Ontario, is winner of T-Base Communications' Business, Education and Technology Scholarship. Legally blind, she fled a life of abuse in India with her two young children. She is studying to become a Human Resources Professional at Sheridan College, and in her spare time works at a battered women's shelter. She speaks with love and pride of her children and looks forward to the day when she has a full-time job and can provide a good life for her family.

Chris Riccomini of Sarnia, Ontario, is winner of the NFB:AE's Toronto Chapter Scholarship, which also includes a lifetime membership to the organization. Born legally blind, he is in his second year of honours music at Wilfrid Laurier University and his goal is to graduate with a Bachelor of Music Therapy degree. Riccomini volunteers at a music program for adults with acquired brain injuries, and sits on a Canadian National Institute for the Blind music committee that organizes a yearly recital and provides scholarship money to young blind musicians. Music therapy allows Riccomini to combine something he loves with a practical career where he can help other people, many of whom face similar challenges because of a disability.

Norah Good-Broughton, winner of the Courtesy Call Scholarship, was born with 20/200 vision and moved to Ottawa, Ontario, at age 15 to finish high school because of limited school resources in her hometown of Halliburton. She became top female athlete in her final year and moved on to compete provincially, nationally and internationally in blind sports, culminating in becoming a member of the Calgary Winter Olympics torch run in 1987. After working as a Health Care Aide for a number of years, she returned to Algonquin College, where she is currently enrolled in a two-year Developmental Services Worker program. Good-Broughton lives in Ottawa with her husband and three boys.

Larianna Brown of Vancouver, British Columbia, is the winner of the NFB:AE National Achievement Scholarship. Having completed her undergraduate degree in Forest Conservation, she spent more than two years working and volunteering in southern Mexico and three Canadian provinces, helping with international forest certification policy revisions and community forestry initiatives. Brown now studies at the School of Community and Regional Planning at the University of British Columbia and hopes to complete her Masters of Science in Planning by December of 2005. She also volunteers at Crabtree Corner, a community support service organization for low income women in Canada's poorest postal code--Vancouver's Downtown East Side.

Congratulations to these Canadian scholars!


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