The signs have always been there, even though I’d spent so long ignoring them, and developed so many coping mechanisms to work my way around them, that they had morphed into the stealth bomber of my life, flying under the radar undetected.

From the inability to tie my own tie for the cruise ship officer’s uniform I donned daily, to the constantly having to write down directions to places I’d been to many times before, to ensure that I did not get lost, yet again, I had difficulties and found solutions where I could. There were constantly racing thoughts, which made concentrating an exercise in Herculean effort; the fidgeting; the nausea-inducing math phobia, which led to a passive-aggressive detest of high school, hidden report cards, and lectures from my understandably exasperated parents and teachers; and, most humbling of all – the complete inability to tell the time.

Despite all of this, I managed to make moves, career wise. I got into occupational safety quite by accident, and worked my way up to upper management in short time. As a safety and facilities officer with a well-known cruise line, I taught fire fighting, AED, CPR, first aid, and search-and-rescue techniques to the 800-plus crew members under my command. I was never once late for a meeting, nor did I ever get lost at any of our European or Caribbean ports of call. I have trained oil rig workers in rig safety and egress protocol, and been the go-to person for other HSE industry folks.

Still, my decision to finally go to university trumped all of that, and brought with it waves of doubt. I wanted my degree so badly, but I was afraid that I’d flunk out when all of my “coping mechanisms” failed at fooling my professors the way that they had fooled everyone else. It took much soul-searching for me to first set foot in the Accessibility Services Center. But when I finally did, it turned out to be the single most important decision I have made so far (besides the decision to attend university, of course). After conversing with me about my difficulties with schoolwork, they had me tested. Being diagnosed with both ADHD and a non-verbal learning disability came as a shock initially, yet was also immensely helpful in putting my early years of school into perspective.

I spoke with my mother the same evening that my learning disability assessment confirmed my challenges, and she expressed a lot of relief. She reminded me that once when I was chosen hall monitor in grade five, she had to draw the clock faces in paper for me, to indicate when it was time for me to ring the recess bell. She also said that she did not realize that I had never learned to tell the time; she had assumed that I learned shortly after that time. This is completely understandable – digital clocks became really popular around the time that I was growing up, and so it became easy for me to fake it.

The Accessibility Services Center has provided me with the tools to work with my particular learning style – learning strategists help me to map out a study plan; technology to help me focus as I read text; access to the valuable notes of a volunteer note taker should I need them. One thing that Accessibility does not do, is do the work for the student – that, my friend, is left for you to rise to the challenge. Things are challenging, yes. But challenging need not mean “impossible”. And the shaping of the woman is in the surpassing of those challenges. So… bring it on!!! Being shown a way to access my ability and realize my full potential makes me smile each time I open my textbooks. And I’m managing to do really well in school – I’m not just scraping by.

If you have a nagging feeling that something isn’t right with your learning experience, I urge you to make an appointment with the Accessibility Services Center. It is never too late to find out; you’re not “too old” to have a learning disability; and there is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of (I wish I had realized this a lot sooner, instead of wasting time thinking up ways to avoid being found out).

Also, if you’d like to help out students with disabilities by becoming a much-needed note taker for your course, please click here to find out the procedure. I thank you!!!

And oh yeah – I am finally, slowly, learning how to tell the time, with the help of Dr. Levey of Accessibility. My graduation present to myself will, of course, be a shiny watch. So on that day – go ahead, ask me the time  😉


Valentine’s Day or not, try a skate date!

Trinity Rink

February 14th, the annual day of love, is almost here. This means that tons of my friends are talking about their upcoming Valentine’s Day plans. Most of them envision a romantic evening of candlelight dinners and sappy movies. I’m sure they’ll have a great time, but I’d rather do something a little more active and much less expensive: like a skate date!

Earlier this year, I went skating at Varsity Arena, and found it was a great way to get some exercise and meet new people. I went on my own, but met a bunch of other students who regularly go skating for a good work-out, some stress relief, a chance to catch up with friends, and most importantly, to have some fun.

Since then, I’ve gone skating a few times on some of Toronto’s outdoor public rinks, like Dufferin Rink, Harbourfront, Christie Pits, and Trinity Rink, which are all a quick TTC trip from campus. Check out the City of Toronto outdoor rinks map to see which of the city’s 51 rinks are in your area. The “Unofficial Website of Toronto’s Outdoor Skating Rinks” is also a good resource for information on skate times, rentals, facilities and special events.

one for shinny and one for pleasure skating!

Dufferin Rink has two sections: one for shinny and one for pleasure skating!

So far, the rink at Dufferin Park is my favorite. It has two sections of ice. One is always devoted to recreational skating, while the other has times set aside for shinny and other ice activities. Also, the changing hut has a wood stove and a snack bar which sells hot chocolate and fresh baked bread: great for a quick warm-up before getting back on the ice!

If all this talk about hot chocolate, skating and socializing sound like fun, there’s a great opportunity to do all three this Friday, February 12.  “Skate Date” is happening at Varsity Arena right after the Blues men’s hockey game. You and your friends (or boyfriend, girlfriend, classmate, partner, parent, or child) can forgo the expensive, cliche Valentines Day activities and watch a hockey game and then stay to skate, listen to music, sip hot chocolate and mingle until midnight.

Both the game and the skate afterward are free for U of T students (a lot less pricey than that candlelight dinner or night at the movies my friends had suggested). Maybe for some of you this is a perfect chance to go out on a limb and invite your crush…really, what’s more romantic than a little skate date, followed by hot chocolate? If you have skates, bring them. But, there will be some loaner skates available. This means, your crush has no excuse not to accept your romantic offer!! Oh, and a few of the Blues will be sticking around after the game to give some tips!!

Whether it’s at Varsity Arena tomorrow, or at one of Toronto’s public outdoor rinks, skating’s a fun way to make the most of the winter season. Readers, if you’re looking for a way to celebrate Valentine’s Day, or just want to get active with friends, grab those skates and get to the rink! Regardless of your ability: beginner, pro, or “so-so”, I hope to see you Friday!

– Shannon

Raise your Green Shield!

With winter in its hey-day, the sun’s free vitamin D has all but disappeared. However, viruses are available in abundance! There’s so many to choose from, how will I be able to decide? Maybe a cold, or flu, or a combination cold and flu! Oh, the choices; they just make my head spin.

But we do have a weapon. Worry not, fellow students, in your quest to vanquish evil viruses, raise your Green Shield! What’s that? You don’t know how to raise the other-worldly powers of your Green Shield?

For shame!

Every year when we pay tuition, we automatically pay for Green Shield health coverage. This is a benefit package akin to what you would receive from an employer. It covers dental, prescription, vision, and a host of other services. But quite a few of us don’t know how to take full advantage of this health coverage.

First of all, there is no membership card for Green Shield. Your benefit number is ‘SAC’ + your UofT student number + ‘00’ (eg. SAC999999999-00). Green Shield operates as a reimbursement policy, so you have to pay for the service, and then submit your claim. You can usually do this electronically at the pharmacy, dentist, or optician. Once the claim has been processed, you will receive a cheque to reimburse you for the amount covered by the plan.
Green Shield covers up to $10,000 per person, per benefit year for all health benefits combined. Broken down, it looks something like this:

-$5,000 per year for prescriptions
-$250 per year for contraceptives
-$500 per year for diabetic testing supplies
-$350 per year for custom orthotics
-$75 every two years for eye exams
-$35 per visit up to a maximum of 20 visits per year to a specialist, including Acupuncturist, Speech Therapist (medical referral required), Naturopath, Registered Massage Therapist (medical referral required), Physiotherapist, Homeopath, Chiropractor, Chiropodist/Podiatrist. Yes, you can get free massages!!!!
-$25 per hour up to $10000 per year per disability for private tutorial service of a qualified teacher. You must be confined to home or hospital for a minimum of 15 consecutive days to qualify.
-$800 per year for dental services, you are responsible to pay for 20 per cent of routine preventative services and routine dental surgeries, 25 per cent of other services (scaling, fluoride every nine months), and 40 per cent for restorative surgeries (fillings etc.).

This is not the complete list, but you can view the benefits booklet here which has a more detailed listing of services covered. You can also contact University of Toronto Student union (UTSU) by phone @ 416-978-4911 ext. 227, email @, with questions regarding health plan coverage.

So, now that you know what health services are covered, but you might realize that you don’t need health coverage. If you are covered by a spouse or a parent and you don’t feel a need for Green Shield coverage, you can opt out of the fee early in the term. It’s too late for this year – the opt out period for the winter term was January 3rd to February 4th. But for future reference, you will need to fill out the opting out form available here and the amount will be reimbursed to you sometime in the second term.

If you have already succumbed to one of the abundantly available viruses circulating throughout campus and you are currently in the depths of a viral induced delirium, you might want to pay a visit to the U of T’s Health Services. They take appointments and walk-ins. They are located right on St. George, in the Koffler Student Services Centre (where the bookstore is), which is so close you probably don’t even need to change out of your pyjama pants. Apart from tending to the sickly on campus, Health Services also offers routine women’s health and physicals, as well as medical counselling.

I hope this has helped you navigate some of the inner workings of Green Shield. This is your health plan, you pay for it, you should use it!

Get well soon!