VIU Observes International Day of Persons with Disabilities Dec. 3

Amber Thomas lost her eyesight at age 10 but that hasn't stopped her from studying Computing Science at VIU.

November 26, 2015 - 10:30am

Amber Thomas lost her eyesight at age 10 due to a brain tumor.

But that hasn’t stopped the ambitious first year Computing Science student at Vancouver Island University (VIU) from pursuing her dreams. Thomas is loving life and classes at VIU thanks in part to her supportive faculty and a friendly guide dog she calls Bear who helps her get around campus safely.

Thomas is speaking out publicly about her visual impairment to help raise awareness about the 4th annual United Nations worldwide observance of International Day of Persons with Disabilities on December 3.

On that day, up to 20 community organizations will gather at VIU’s Nanaimo campus for an information fair to showcase services and programs available to assist people with disabilities.

“Everyone is invited to visit the campus and see the community resources and technological advances available to assist persons with disabilities,” says Denise Hook, of VIU’s Disabilities Services department.

“With more than 700 students registered with the Disability Office at VIU, and over a billion people or 15 percent of the world’s population living with some form of disability, we feel it’s important to be part of this international day of observance. There are still stigmas and stereotypes to overcome.”

The theme of this year’s event is Access and Empowerment for People of All Abilities.

Hook says VIU provides a range of equipment, services and other forms of support to help students like Thomas be successful.

For example, interpreters help students with hearing impairments, while note takers assist students with visual impairments. Students also benefit from a range of electronic devices and computer programs, or quiet rooms for writing exams.

“VIU also has a site licence to Kurzweil 3000 – a text to speech program. This is available at no charge to all students and staff at VIU,” says Hook. “It’s all about improving access to education.”

Originally from Drayton Valley (near Edmonton), Thomas discovered VIU when she was researching schools with Computing Science programs.

“I had conversations with faculty and quickly learned that VIU has a good history for helping people with disabilities – more so than a lot of other schools,” says Thomas.

“I’m the first completely blind person ever to enroll in the Computing Science program at VIU,” she adds. “It’s been a good experience. VIU is like a family. I’m loving the program and the professors are helpful making accommodations when needed.”

Thomas is just completing her first semester – two computer science classes and one calculus class.

Disabilities Services ensures her textbooks are accessible in braille if need be, and that she has extra time to write exams.

In terms of physically getting around campus, Thomas says, “the stairs aren’t that bad. Some of the railings are a little difficult to work with but they really don’t pose much of a problem otherwise.”

Thomas hopes to complete VIU’s two-year diploma program in Computing Science and then branch into a four-year degree with a co-operative education option.

Asked why she chose to study Computing Science, Thomas says, “There are not many people with disabilities working in this field. I have a first-hand awareness of specific demands that a person with a visual impairment would need. I have a unique insight, so why not use it?”

International Day of Persons with Disabilities takes place at the VIU Nanaimo campus Dec. 3, from 11 am to 2 pm, Building 300, in the main cafeteria. Everyone is welcome.

For further information, please contact



Janina Stajic, Manager, Vancouver Island University

P: 250.740.6288 E: Twitter: @VIUNews

Tags: In the Community

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