No holding back

Danette Dooley
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Young woman overcomes disability for university education

Leaving rural Newfoundland for post-secondary studies in the province’s capital city is daunting for many teenagers.
Especially coming from a community where from Kindergarten to Grade 12 there were only three students in the school; the fear of the unknown must only heighten.

18-year-old Monica Oake has been in a wheelchair since the age of three due to a car accident. She's currently a psychology student at Memorial University. 

When on top of these things you have been in a wheelchair since age three due to a terrible car crash, the challenge of moving away for university seems too much to bear.

If you think that’s true, you haven’t met 18-year-old Monica Oake.

Oake is from Long Island, a small community in central Newfoundland. She completed her first year of studies at Memorial University in April and is now home with her family for the summer.

Oake admits leaving home for university where there are over 18,000 students was initially overwhelming.

“It was crazy at first. We had orientation and there were about 3,000 new students. I’ve never been in a crowd like that. But luckily I had one of my friends (Megan Reardon) there with me. She’s from a small community (St. Brendan’s) too so she knew what it was like for me.”

Oake says many people helped her prepare for university, including her social worker at the Janeway.

“She helped me find out who to talk to at Memorial and during the summer after my Grade 11 we did a meet-and-greet with people at Memorial and we did a tour of the campus. So (the people at the university’s Blundon Centre) knew I was coming to Memorial after my Grade 12 so I didn’t go in overwhelmed trying to get things ready.”

Staff at the Blundon Centre provide services and supports to students with long-term and short-term disabilities. Oake says their assistance has been invaluable.

“Even before I got there, they looked at what accommodations needed to be made for me. They got carpenters to fix desks for me in labs so that I could use them. Everybody was just really helpful and aware that I may need help.”

Students were also friendly, she says, and didn’t hesitate to ask if she needed help.

Childhood memories

Looking back on her childhood, Oake says there were no major obstacles going to her hometown school of Long Island Academy.

“Everything was flat in my school. It was all one level. Whatever changes were needed to be made for me, were made. They made a desk for me.”

After completing high school Oake knew she wanted to further her education.

“I didn’t just want to stay around. I wanted to get out and do my own thing and try to figure out what kind of career I wanted.”

Oake decided to pursue a psychology degree. When asked why she hopes to pursue a career in that field, she says it’s her intention to help other people face challenges in their lives.

“I really like helping people," she says. "I want to see people happy and I believe I can do that as a counsellor of some sort.”

Oake has an apartment in St. John’s close to the university. Her father Wade Oake moved to the city with her and stayed until the year was over.

“Dad helped me out a lot.”

Oake’s mother Monda Oake stayed at home with Monica’s 14-year-old sister Laura.

Making life accessible

Ruth North is manager of Memorial’s Glenn Roy Blundon Centre – more commonly known as the Blundon Centre.

North says it’s important for students with disabilities to contact the centre early to let them know about their plans to attend Memorial. Doing so is particularly important if structural changes need to be made to existing premises before classes begin, North says.

“We do everything we reasonably can to facilitate accommodations for students with disabilities in accordance with Memorial’s Accommodations for Students with Disabilities Policy, so they have an equal opportunity to achieve their educational goals.”

The new policy also places emphasis on partnerships and collaboration in providing accommodation, she says.

“Memorial is a great place to study – we offer services that are comparable to those offered at other universities across Canada and beyond. We also offer a wonderful, supportive team of people who genuinely care about students,” North says.

Oake agrees with North’s comments.

“I would recommend anybody who needs help who are thinking of going to MUN to definitely get in contact with the Blundon Centre early so you are on their radar. Then you won’t be overwhelmed when you get there.”

Organizations: Blundon Centre, Janeway, Long Island Academy

Geographic location: Long Island, Newfoundland, Canada MUN

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