Catherine McGowan’s post-secondary career has presented her with a
variety of challenges and forks in the road. But with each new path taken,
she has learned something about herself and her abilities.
Catherine began classes at Ontario’s McMaster University in the early
1980s, after completing high school. She spent two years there, studying
general arts. But ultimately, Catherine says, she “had a bit too much fun in
those first few years,” and didn’t end up completing the degree.
“High school was difficult for me, because I was going through medical
testing,” says Catherine, who has a mild form of Muscular Dystrophy.
“Going to university was a chance to get away, but I got a bit too caught up
From McMaster, it was on to the University of Regina to study for a bachelor
of social work degree. Saskatchewan proved a good fit for Catherine;
social work was what she’d originally wanted to study, and she had family to
turn to in the province.
While at the University of Regina, Catherine also connected with the organization
now called the Saskatchewan Voice of People with Disabilities. She
looks back fondly on these memories.
“It was a life-changing experience,” says Catherine of her affiliation with
the group. “A big problem in high school was not feeling like I fit in. The
Saskatchewan Voice of People with Disabilities was where I learned that
disability was more about environmental barriers than something inside of
Catherine finished her bachelor of social work in 1987, and came back to
Ontario to live at home and work. A series of social work and disabilityrelated
jobs eventually led to a contract with the Manitoba League of
Persons with Disabilities in Winnipeg, where she has lived for the last few
When that job ended, Catherine decided to go to the University of Winnipeg
to finish the degree she’d begun at McMaster. She obtained a bachelor of arts
in theatre – another of her passions – in 1995.
Catherine says going back to school as an adult was helpful. “I have a much
clearer idea now of what I want to do.” She is currently finishing a master
of social work degree, and hopes to eventually combine her studies working
in the emerging field of drama therapy. She also spends some of her time
serving as the Manitoba representative on the NEADS board of directors.
Catherine says there are a number of things students with disabilities can
do to ensure they succeed at the post-secondary level. She says students
should begin by doing as much research as possible on schools and programs
of interest to them. Finding out as much information as you can early on
ensures that you have a sound idea of the services to look for once you’re at
a school. Secondly, she says building a support network of people you can
turn to is key to success in your studies. Get involved with student groups
or even start one yourself, and introduce yourself to the disability service
providers on your campus. Financially, students should look at obtaining
scholarships, as there are many out there. But above all, says Catherine, have
confidence in yourself and your abilities.
“It’s important for students to not let themselves get talked out of something
they want to do. If you’re faced with problems in your classes, you need
to be able to work on getting the right accommodations, rather than being
intimidated into switching programs.”