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Gillian Sumi
General Arts and Science
Newnham Campus

My Transfer Journey: Gillian


Survival List for Post-Secondary Education and Beyond

Self Advocacy is a learned skill which does not happen overnight.  It’s knowing what your needs are, how to ask for them, and knowing your rights and responsibilities. It is okay to have an ally or advocate for support. Documentation for advocating needs and backing them up if needed is important. Change is inevitable-it is frustrating when information accessed on accessible transportation websites  for example, i.e. Wheel-trans i.e. building locations, drop-off/pick-up locations are not updated and locations do not have Wheel-Trans signage etc. Systematic/ structural barriers not having updated information and the run around to access the correct information especially when one has to use multiple systems of support i.e. attendants and Wheel-Trans or conventional transit if one is comfortable and has the ability to use it and the  and additional things to consider such as traffic, construction etc.

Take advantage of academic workshops that assist you in building your skills, i.e. writing, learning skills workshops, exam preparation workshops, and career development. Have a budget as life and getting an education can be expensive. Take advantage of financial aid, scholarships and bursaries to help offset some of your educational expenses if you have the opportunity. National Educational Association of Disabled Students is a resource that has topic on education, employment and resources.;

Take advantage of the support services at your post-secondary institution if necessary or externally if it is suited to your needs and is a better fit.

Sleep, keeping fit, healthy nutrition, alone time and extra-curricular activities you enjoy will all contribute to help maintain a balance in your life.

It is okay to say no and I am okay with that and opting out of activities, Self-care is important. Boundaries are important and apologies are nice but be aware not always necessary or reciprocated by everyone.

There will be success, challenges, and heartache.  Be prepared for a winding, zig-zag, loopy, fork in the road, job path and career path. Not always a straight path from studies, to a job, to a career.

Stay strong and do not let other people think it is your fault or get away with putting the blame back on you by making you feel bad or bullying you, it is their issues, and it is NOT you. Do not take any ###@$.

When experiencing difficult moments and tough times, in addition to family, unless they are going through similar experiences, one will know who you can count on they have similar experiences or have gone through similar experiences and will have your back.

Who’s life is it? Your life. You have to be okay with who are even if it requires small steps and support from a person you trust and being okay with YOU in the moment.

Kampai! (Cheers!) I hope you enjoying reading my experiences, tips and tricks to assist you in making in through your studies at a post-secondary institution a positive memorable experience; be prepared for challenges too. Time for me to take some time for self-care and on to my next experience.

Cindi Lauper; True Colors (1986)  

The Script-Hall of Fame Song ft. Will.i am

Rachael Platten; Fight Song (2015)         

Green Day; Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) (Nimrod, 1997)

Katy Perry Firework Teenage Dream (2010)

Nikki Yanofsky; Vancouver Olympic Song I Believe (2010)


Yen, Pound, Franc, Dollars, Cents, Credit, Debt, Balance: The Art of Gaining Money to Pay for an Education

Gaining an education puts demands on students’ wallets. I’m referring to costs associated with rent, food, tuition, textbooks, living expenses, transportation, emergency funds, assistive technology and devices, note taking, attendant care, tutoring and of course an educational assessment to qualify for educational and academic support. Receiving an education certainly adds up.

It can be overwhelming with all the paperwork and documentation that a student with a disability has to provide the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) and the Bursary for Students with Disabilities (BSWD) or to qualify for financial support from an internal or external bursary or award. Sometimes I wish money grew on a tree (that will be the day). Whether you’re five or 65, everyone secretly wishes money grew on trees.

I sought help for the OSAP process. Despite this precaution, I received the wrong information even though I had support to find out about the OSAP process the first year of attending York University. The lesson: A student with a disability cannot accept living expenses from OSAP because the Ontario Disability Program considers the living expenses from OSAP as an additional income—resulting in overpayment (STRESS!).

Eventually the amount of paperwork and the systematic bureaucracy of rules took its toll on me and I had to leave my studies for one year due to a high amount of worry, anxiety, and depression. My anxiety of government offices and filling out government paperwork still exists. While this is a past experience, hopefully, York University as well as other universities eventually to a certain extent streamline academic support and intuitional guidelines, especially policies for students and even faculty and staff, so there is better coordination of communication that is accessible and understandable, therefore reducing confusion and disconnect even if questions are asked.

Moral of the story:

  • Make a budget: Research and estimate a budget for rent, food, tuition, textbooks, living expenses, transportation, emergency money, money for additional educational supports i.e. money for assistive technology and devices, note taking costs, attendant care costs, tutoring and of course an educational assessment to qualify for educational and academic supports so at the end of studies a student with or without a disability will have less of a debt and you have less people asking the famous line from Jerry Maguire: “Show me the money.” Keep in mind that it does take time to find employment opportunities and it is more of a challenge for all students with disabilities to find, get hired, and maintain employment.
  • Do not hesitate to ask questions: Go with a list of questions if it is helpful. Seek support from friends and family to help remember the ever-changing financial assistance rules from government assistance programs. Internal educational scholarships, bursaries, and external educational scholarships, also help with educational costs depending of the field of study. When inquiring about questions you may have regarding financial assistance or money issues it is helpful to make an appointment and try to speak to or be directed to a senior financial officer in the financial aid office if it is possible. Take advantage of Open House events and the orientation day that usually happens for students with disabilities through the main disability office, Physical Sensory Medical Disability Services (PSMDS), once or twice a year. Government rules are constantly changing so it helps to check money matters right before the program begins.
  • Seek out workshops: These can be financial workshops in addition to academic writing and career workshops. The financial aid services at both York University campuses also have information sessions for domestic and international students about filing taxes.
  • Research relevant work-study programs: There may be Work Study programs (although there have been budget cuts), which can help with financing tuition costs.
  • Network: Talk to people. This is helpful if you made it through undergraduate studies, are in graduate studies or if you are considering graduate studies.

Financial Resources:

To explore your options for scholarships, awards and financial aid, select the sentence on the following York University website which best describes you:

York’s Student Financial Services website may also be of help:

Transitional Resource Guide for Students with Disabilities: Regional Assessment and Resource Centre (RARC) for students with Learning Disabilities, ADHD, and ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). Queen’s University and St. Lawrence College in Kingston, Ontario, Canada.

Did you find this blog interesting, hopefully informative and helpful? Check this page soon for the next blog!



Allies towards Self-Advocacy….the evolving life journey…A community: Part 2

On the flip side, one can meet allies in unexpected places…. I wondered when someone would come through the door. With one hand on the wall, I used the other hand and I managed to open the door part way — a crack “Hello is anybody there” I peered out into the hall and thought to myself that when that person comes by, I would ask them for help because there is no way I can manage the door myself. This really sucks! An automatic pushbutton to open the door (ADO) would come in handy. I can’t even use the washroom myself. “A Privilege to Use the Washroom” Everyone has to go. I have met some pretty interesting people during my time at York. A lot of graduate students, friends, mentors and allies, who have weathered the downpours, cloudy days, and the sunshine with me in my life (and of course my family).

Lessons Learned:

  • Do not hesitate to ask for help. Class mates, course directors, T.A. (teaching assistants), G.A. (graduate students) are at your disposal and there to help.
  • The professor as well outside a course, the faculty program office.

Disability Offices:

  • (PSMDS), Physical, Sensory, Medical Disability Services:
  • Learning Disability Services:
  • Mental Health Services:
  • Writing Centres (located in the Ross Building and Atkinson). Registration is required, based on a student’s availability, needs, and writing assistance availability. Be advised there are no-show policies at both centres.
  • Library Services, Library Services for Students with Disabilities are a useful and needed service: Help is available locating and pulling library resources (just remember to have the call numbers of library material), Library Transcription Services, (Alternative format(s) of course materials and some library resources, scanned course material and resources so Zoom Text, braille, audio recording(s). Try to plan ahead because it takes time to co-ordinate both course material(s) and library material(s) in alternative format(s) for ease of accessibility.
  • Librarian/Research assistance: in the Library Learning Commons. It is by appointment and it is helpful to have an idea/outline of what you are looking for or need assistance with.

There are going to be times when you need assistance. It is inevitable. Each person who pursues studies at university is different, in of who they are, their accommodation needs, and their desired career paths. There are different learning styles, for faculty and staff, and for students without disabilities. Students with disabilities - whether physical disability, sensory, medical, learning, an invisible disability, or mental health issues or in any combination - may take longer to address and accommodate their accommodations. With initiative, accommodations and support it may just take more time, an evolving journey by the individual, and their pace within reason and choice, to deem their terms of success. Active listening is very important, and I feel when assisting students with and without disabilities first meet the student where they are at, talk to them about suggestive strategies, options, be supportive, but let the student make a decision or choice.

Things to try and remember for Faculty and Staff and Educators:
A willingness (open mind) to begin to think in or equity, and inclusion, to seek out knowledge about various disabilities from students and people with lived experience, not only how their disabilities affect them personally but also the challenges they may encounter on a daily basis in an educational setting and in the community.

When working with a student with a disability, be aware that they have multiple factors to consider such as possibly attendant care, transportation issues, in addition to academic responsibilities that they contend with that may have an impact on any student’s health and well-being. Voice control may be a contributing factor of a person’s disability as it can be mistaken for yelling by the person providing a student or person with a disability assistance. There are different learning styles; Auditory, visually learners, students who learn best and may find it easier to express themselves through written communication opposed to verbal communication or vice- versa and/or a combination of learning styles mentioned. The different learning styles will require different accommodations for any student with a disability for an equitable chance of success. There may be two students with disabilities documented with the same general category of disabilities enrolled in the courses that you teach or assist in the community. Be aware, for example these two students or people with a disability may have the same classification of a disability. Their disability, however, may affect them in totally different ways. Theory and practical application do not always mesh together. Certain sounds, noise pitches, strobe lights, light can trigger and affect a student or person with a disability (ties) mental and physical well-being which they have no control over spasms, certain sounds, noise levels, pitches of objects, actions (tapping on surfaces), or on the shoulder and activities for me, for example, can cause my body to jump (startle reflex), and I cannot predict when it will happen.

Another point to consider is when working with a person with a disability or disabilities of any type I feel there is a fine line balance so to say between knowing what your needs are speaking up (saying what needs are and what works best for you, how to complete the task, and listening), which to some degree is common sense. I feel a person with a disability who feels their feelings have not been diminished and without pushback and attitude even if the person providing assistance has been working with a certain person with a disability for a long time and has a professional relationship. There are all types of people and personalities in the world.

Do you have any interesting advocacy stories and tips from your studies at Seneca College? Please tell me about it if you are willing to share. Stay tuned for the next blog.



Allies towards self-advocacy...the evolving life journey...a community

Making the transition from the Seneca College to York University or another post-secondary institution, can at times can be frustrating and mesmerizing. It resembles an exhilarating roller coaster ride with steep inclines, twists and turns, and gut wrenching heart stopping moments of free fall. The whole experience to me as an analogy is like putting a jigsaw puzzle together—trying to find out what works and what does not.  There a few dates which have been etched in my memory for their significance in increasing my independence. Each date is significant because each one represented a choice. Choices have acted as stepping stones or baby steps on my journey through life. Choices lead to opportunities, leading to dreams, and when dreams are acted upon they become reality.

Part of my story: Faced with a challenge:

My courses weren’t without their challenges.   In one course I was not accommodated even though I had filled out all of the paperwork for the (BSWD) Bursary for Students with Disabilities to assist with covering the cost of notetaking of my lecture notes. I advocated for myself but was still faced with a challenge getting the supports I needed. To make a long story short— I struggled through understanding the course material.  My anxiety and ability to cope was definitely pushed to the max that year. I was truly unhappy, which affected my ability to comprehend, learn, and function in the class. In the end, I was given the opportunity to take the final exam and if I passed my grade would be raised by 10%.  I was shaking in my boots so to speak the day of the exam and I did pass the course, but effects of the experience left undoubtedly an impression that still affects me today.

Important Tidbits from my story of challenge with a course:

You are not alone.  You do not have to solve challenges encountered in a course by yourself. Go to someone you feel comfortable and trust to discuss the challenge with i.e. classmate, friend, counsellor, disability counsellor, college mentor/advisor etc. Try to get to know sources of support that will be of help before encountering challenges this strategy will be an asset in the event of encountering challenges.

Know your rights and responsibilities as a student: You do not have to disclose your disability unless you feel comfortable. If you are unsure of your rights and responsibilities, ask to be directed to the right person/department.

Check your institution’s website, program website for guideline, procedures and policies. Review the website from time to time to familiarize yourself and be in the know of recent updates, alerts, closures or changes.

You may be intimidates to ask for assistance from a T.A. course director, or professor in a course. But ask anyway! My story illustrates an example of self advocacy, assistance from an ally or allies and interdependence.

Part 2 of this blog suggests things to remember for Faculty, Staff, Educators and people without disabilities who befriend a person with a disability or multiple disabilities. Academic integrity for all students “refers to the maintenance of standards of curriculum, evaluation, and student achievement” (Ontario Human Rights Commission Report (2003), 61, but for both parties involved, students with disabilities and educators, academic integrity and the more complex process involving its own set of challenges. The Ontario Human Rights Commission Report) (2003), clarifies the misconception regarding academic integrity (insert link)

In other words, the accommodation is appropriate if it meets an individual’s disability related needs and allows not necessarily equality but equity leveling the playing field for students with disabilities to have the same opportunities and chances for success as their peers and classmates in an educational setting, thus creating an inclusive learning environment for everyone

Do you have any interesting advocacy stories from your studies at Seneca College? Please tell me about it if you are willing to share. Self advocacy is a process. In future a blog or blogs self-advocacy and the importance of allies may be discussed again. What are some topics that I can may be of assistance to you? Stay tuned for Stay tuned for January 2017 blog Part 2 of The Importance of Self-Advocacy, Lesson Learned.



First Class Jitters

I can remember my initial attempt of trying to adapt to the demands of university life at York. What was my first class going to be like? Would I be able to find my way around campus? Who would assist me with my lecture notes? Was I going to be able to cope?—A myriad of thoughts of uncertainty whirled in my head. I made it!  I had successfully tackled the first hurdle, as I entered Stedman Lecture Hall D, for Psych 1010 6.0, I looked around at the rows and rows of lecture desks and the sea of unfamiliar faces and wondered what I had gotten myself into. After a few weeks of struggling to travel across campus to my manual wheelchair struggling to read and comprehend my note taker’s type abbreviated shorthand for my lecture notes that meant nothing but gibberish to me and with the first psych test steadily approaching I gathered up the courage one Tuesday night after class and approached the professor to ask for help.  I explained to her that I was having difficulty in understanding the course material and asked if I could get help from her. She proceeded to inform me that she or the TA would be available at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesdays before class and I tried to explain to her that I use Wheel Trans to travel to and from York and I was not certain that I was going to be able to meet her at the time because Wheel-Trans service was not that flexible. She proceeded to say everyone has long commutes and transportation issues. She just did not understand the complexities of Wheel-Trans of how pre-booked rides have to be scheduled in advance in September and how transportation to the campus was not that flexible for people with disabilities. On another occasion for the same class I again approached the professor for her help and I reiterated difficulties in understanding the course material and my ability to cope with the demands of the course at which point she replied “well may be the University environment is not for you, maybe you’d be better suited to a college environment where it is less academic.” At that moment my world began to crumble. I thought to myself, maybe she’s right, maybe I’m in over my head I began to question why I had held steadfast to the dream of one day studying at York and now that I had worked so hard to get here I wondered how accessible my education was to me. Often, but not always it is until an able-bodied person experiences the illness or disablement that they begin to understand the multiple issues people with disabilities have to contend with from physical access to buildings, to the less obvious but equal important issue of accessing academic resources and support as they pursue higher education.

Positive experience:

In September 2004, after successfully completing Introduction to Mass Communications, not without obstacles, I entered a York lecture hall-- this time for Introduction Women’s Studies. I had the same uncertainty as before to some extent but I also knew that a professor at Seneca who had taught me in the articulation program taught introduction to Women’s Studies. I was also armed with my tape recorder for lecture notes which my note taker would transcribe because there was a conflict and they were not able to be in class to take notes for me. I was elated when someone said Gillian you’re in my course-a friendly face boosted my confidence. Although my note taker was not able to be in the class to take notes for me, she did transcribe the recordings of the lectures, and with the assistance of the two course directors I successfully passed to Introduction to Women’s Studies.

Lessons Learned:

Do not hesitate to ask for help. (classmates, course director(s), T.A. (teaching assistant), G.A. (graduate student) at your disposal (there to help), professor, program office, disability office(s) PSMDS, Learning Disability Services, Mental Health Services, Writing Centre(s), Library Services, (Library Services for Students with Disabilities, (locating and pulling library resources (just remember to have the call numbers of library material) Library Transcription Services, (Alternative format(s) of course materials and some library resources, scanned course material and resources so Zoom Text, braille, audio recording(s) (try to plan ahead due it takes time to co-ordinate both course material(s) and library material(s) in alternative format(s) for ease of accessibility. Librarian/Research assistance in the Library Learning Commons, (by appointment and helpful have an idea/outline of what you are looking for or need assistance with).                   

Ask questions. (Chances are likely other students (including those without disabilities have the similar questions or the same questions about course material).

It is OK for trial and error. (It takes time to adjust and feel comfortable with a new environment or change)

Stronger than you may think, Do not give up! Support and allies create a difference when times are tough.     

What was your experience like at Keele Campus or Glendon? Have you any ideas for topics? How can I be of assistance to you? Please let me know. Stay Tuned for December blog I may be discussing the importance of Self-Advocacy.



What Brought Me to Seneca

Have you ever wanted to try something new, have questions but unsure of how to start where to go, who to ask? I am Gillian Sumi and I am a graduate of Seneca College’s Articulated General Arts and Science Program and also a graduate of York University. I graduated from Seneca College in June 2003 and went on to pursue an Honours degree in Women’s Studies at York University and graduated in June 2011. My path to pursuing my degree wasn’t straightforward, it had lots of twists and turns sort of like a roller coaster or the analogy of putting a jigsaw puzzle together. While pursuing my degree, self-advocacy was extremely important and what worked for me and what did not, which are things I am continually learning even after achieving my undergraduate degree.

I have been asked by Seneca College’s Degree and Credit Transfer Office to assist other students by telling my story. My monthly blog will share my experiences, tricks, resources and tips, as I completed my degree and will hopefully assist students (including those with disabilities) by providing a friendly place to turn to ask questions and receive support while navigating York University and pursuing your degree transfer. In a third year Women’s Studies course I took, Feminist Methods and Methodologies, I read from an article “Beginning Where We Are: Feminist Methodology in Oral History” by Kathryn Anderson, Susan Armitage, Dana Jack and Judith Wittner, in which they mention that we must learn to help women tell their own stories, and then learn to listen to those stories without being guided by our inability to hear. When women with disabilities or students with disabilities share their stories it gives a voice and a sense of autonomy. With that being said, if you have questions about my experiences from my time at York University I can also assist you by referring you to resources that may be of help. Remember, there is the Counselling and Accessibility Services at each of the Seneca College campuses, disability counsellors and support staff and the Physical, Sensory, Medical Disability Services (PSMDS) at York University. Tune in each month as I share my experiences on a variety of topics as I pursued my degree at York. Have a great October and Talk soon!


 **The views expressed in this blog are those of the student bloggers and do not represent those of Seneca College.