New scholarship breaks down the barriers for students with disabilities

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The Toronto Rehabilitation Institute (Toronto Rehab) presented its Scholarship in Rehabilitation-Related Research for Graduate Students with Disabilities to graduate students Laura Moll and Anita Kaiser. The scholarships, worth $20,000 each, were presented at the hospital’s Second Annual Toronto Rehabilitation Institute Research Day and were made possible by TD Bank Financial Group. The scholarships are part of the hospital’s strategy to enhance consumer participation in research by attracting people with disabilities to train in and conduct rehabilitation research.

“We are very pleased to make this investment in Laura’s and Anita’s future and to help them develop to their full potential both academically and professionally,” says Dr. Geoff Fernie, Vice President, Research, at Toronto Rehab. “We hope these scholarships will encourage people with disabilities to get involved in rehabilitation-related research so that they are active participants and contributors to research that might ultimately affect their everyday lives.”

“I feel extremely privileged and honoured and a great amount of pride that Toronto Rehab is investing in me so that I can make a difference in the disabled community,” says scholarship recipient and PhD student Laura Moll. “This scholarship will allow me to achieve my academic and career dreams.” Laura’s aspirations are rooted in her successful recovery after sustaining a traumatic brain injury and permanent injuries to her left arm and leg in a car crash when she was six years old. It was thought that Laura would not make it to high school because of her brain injury.

“By creating this scholarship, Toronto Rehab and TD Bank are sending a very powerful message that students with disabilities can make a valuable contribution to research,” says scholarship recipient and masters student Anita Kaiser. “They are also saying that individuals with disabilities have an important role to play in society.”

Anita always wanted to go into the field of rehabilitation. She was planning on becoming a physiotherapist or chiropractor after completing her bachelor’s degree in science but after a car crash left her paralyzed from the chest down, she turned her focus to rehabilitation research.

The scholarship is the first of its kind in Canada and is more than just an academic award. In addition to the $20,000 given to help with academic expenses, the scholarships provide funding to cover disability-related costs of attending graduate school. Toronto Rehab’s research department has created a Scholarship Committee that will work with students to ensure that they have the supports they need to overcome any specific challenges they face as a result of their disability.

To help students meet their academic and research goals, additional supports may include appropriately configured office space, assistive devices, mentoring and tutoring.

“We believe that these additional supports will help to level the playing field for students with disabilities so that they too can enjoy success in their particular field of study,” says Dr. Fernie.

“It is reassuring to know that the Scholarship Committee truly has your best interest in mind as they support and guide you through your studies. I feel very fortunate to have this huge wealth of knowledge at my fingertips. Committee members will be excellent role models. They are the researchers I hope to one day become,” says Anita.

While the scholarships were only available to students at the University of Toronto this year, graduate students from five more universities will be eligible to apply next year. Fields of study must relate to rehabilitation but are not limited to any particular discipline. Applicants from architecture to women’s studies, to engineering, computer science and social work are welcomed.

Scholarships for the 2007/8 academic year will be awarded in the summer of 2007 with an application deadline of May 1, 2007. For more details including eligibility criteria and application procedures, visit www.torontorehab.com