Why Giving Matters

COUPLE'S SUPPORT HELPS BREAK BARRIERS

January 10, 2018

Dr. Sophie Gosselin and Daniel Morris created a pioneering bursary for blind students.

Daniel Morris’s vision deteriorated sharply during the four years he studied at McGill’s Macdonald campus.

“When I first started at McGill, I could actually read large bolded font,” says Morris, who is legally blind. “By the end, I had to have my exams read to me because I wasn’t able to read for myself.”

Morris persevered, earning an MSc in Dietetics and Human Nutrition at McGill, followed by a Graduate Diploma in Registered Dietitian Credentialing in 2014.

“I had such a good experience at McGill, in that it taught me many skills,” he says. Morris credits McGill’s Office for Students with Disabilities (OSD) with helping him reach his goals. It played an essential role in his success, especially with exams, Morris says. Among other aids, he had access to a note-taker throughout his studies – a student doing the same degree.

Through funding from the Quebec government, the OSD even obtained software that could read PDF documents. “That was an enormous plus,” he recounts. “When you’re equipped with appropriate tools, everything becomes much more accessible.”

Today, Morris is a very busy man: he works as a research assistant, registered dietician and massage therapist.

He is also paving the way for others: through a generous donation, he and his wife, Dr. Sophie Gosselin, recently established the first bursary at McGill for students who are legally blind or who have other physical disabilities. Morris’s motivation lies in the sky-high jobless rates in developed countries among people who are legally blind.

Morris and Gosselin met hiking a glacier in New Zealand in 2004. They came up with the idea for a bursary while preparing a will, then decided to move ahead with it now, partly to see it mature. They will also be including a bequest in their estate plans to continue their support.

“Part of doing it now is that we feel very grateful for what we have, and are certainly willing to pay it forward,” Gosselin says.

Dr. Gosselin, who did her medical residency at McGill and works as an emergency physician at the McGill University Health Centre, says they hope to remove barriers to student success for students who are legally blind.

“We want this assistance to help remove the financial burden that often plagues people with disabilities,” says Gosselin, who is also an Associate Professor with McGill’s Faculty of Medicine. “We want anyone who interacts with people with visual disabilities to realize that being legally blind should no longer be a limitation to being involved in scientific work, or to finding good professional employment.”

Morris and Gosselin add that by being part of the McGill community, the recipients of this new award will be in a good position to educate others about the capabilities of people who are legally blind. Dr. Gosselin adds that innovations in accessibility technology, such as text-to-speech, give people wings they didn’t have before.

From memory, Morris believes his lowest mark at McGill was an A-minus. He even received an award for academic excellence. High achievement mattered to him: he explains that as a pioneer for students with visual impairments, he felt that his own success could help show that having a physical disability is not an indicator of a person’s academic potential.

Morris wants the scholarship to recognize academic excellence in a hardworking recipient who aims to become a leader for people with visual impairments. “Doing well at university is not just due to intelligence, but to an incredible amount of hard work and discipline,” he explains.

Speaking of their shared motivations, Dr. Gosselin notes that, “We feel fortunate to have met each other and to do what we love, and we want other people to be able to do the same.”