High School Transition
Student Success Stories
MaryAnne Duchesne is a visually impaired mature student in the Northwest Territories. She is also the Territories Representative on the NEADS Board of Directors and the Secretary/Treasurer of the Association. Being a student with disabilities in the Northwest Territories, where services the rest of the country can take advantage of often don’t reach until much later, has posed many problems. But she says her determination has allowed her to combat most of these challenges.
MaryAnne is two courses away from obtaining a degree in management studies from Aurora College. Prior to starting her degree in 1997, she was in the workforce for several years. Having attended high school earlier than many other current post-secondary students would have, and having been a person with disabilities in the workforce, MaryAnne has seen the changes in services and treatment of people with disabilities in the Northwest Territories.
“When I was in high school there were very few accommodations available,” she says. “It was either sink or swim, and it was the same in many of my jobs. It was only 1995, when I was working for the Worker’s Compensation Board, when I first got any accommodations.” MaryAnne says she wasn’t even aware until that point that she was entitled to any sort of accommodations as a person with a disability.
She says that even though Aurora College is a small campus, she has been able to get accommodations most of the times she has needed them. She has been able to write many exams in 14-point font size, which is easier for her to read, and later discovered she could do exams on a computer. “My handwriting looks like chicken scratch, so that was wonderful,” MaryAnne says. In addition, many instructors have been happy to give her copies of class lecture notes so she can re-read things she has missed. That’s not to say it’s been all smooth sailing in dealing with instructors.
MaryAnne says the fact that the Aurora College program is offered in conjunction with the much larger Athabasca University has helped some, because the Athabasca administrators have been able to step in for her in certain problematic cases. But she says having the confidence to approach instructors herself has been a key to getting results.
Another challenge for MaryAnne was funding – both obtaining it, and learning how to spend it wisely. She says she has had to be very careful with budgeting. “I found early on (while on student loans), I had just enough money from September to Christmas. Then they gave a second installment in January, and that was enough until the end of the school year,” she says. “I guess it was not having the holidays in there.”
In addition to paying for tuition, she tells of a struggle to find funding for reading glasses she needed for her studies. She had to approach the Northwest Territories’ government’s health and social services department to obtain the $1,000 needed to pay for the glasses. “If they were in a good mood, you got it,” she remembers. “If not, you had to go through the process of talking to your MLA.” After a three to five month wait, she got the glasses. But she had to go through another long process after she broke that pair.
MaryAnne advises students who want to succeed at post-secondary school to “treat it like a job.” Taking night classes gave her the day to prepare. She says each class required between 3 to 5 hours of readings per week, and she’d do those the day of her class so the material was fresh. She completed her assignments on the weekends. In addition, MaryAnne says she organized study groups for several classes. These allowed her to study with a group for exams, as well as to compare answers on assignments with her peers, so that errors could be corrected before the work was submitted.
“The number one thing is to be goal-oriented,” MaryAnne says of how to succeed at college or university. “If you set something as a goal, follow through on it for yourself. You have to make sure you’re doing this for yourself, and not for someone