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Supporting access to learning for students with special abilities

Phil Gerard and Gabriela Nieto
Phil Gerard and Gabriela Nieto

The university environment presents many possibilities as well as its share of academic, financial and social demands. For students with learning disabilities, it can pose unique hurdles.

Phil Gerard and Gabriela Nieto want to help level the playing field. They have created the Gerard-Nieto Family Special Abilities Award to support SFU students diagnosed with a learning disability or disorder, such as autism spectrum disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder that makes learning challenging.

“The reality is that post-secondary education is a competitive world whether academically or athletically,” says Gerard. “Usually it’s the student that is ‘the best’ of class or on a team that gets recognized. We wanted to support students who have to work a bit harder to get there, to give them a financial boost for their extra effort.”

Gerard, a former SFU employee, and Nieto are small business owners with a strong commitment to philanthropy and education.

As parents of a 14-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter both diagnosed with learning disabilities, they understand how these disabilities can impact performance and participation in academic pursuits and life’s activities.

“It can be very draining,” Nieto says. “I see the physical and mental exertion they expend when they are trying to understand something. It’s hard for me to explain—I learn in a very different way than they do.”

SFU’s Centre for Accessible Learning seeks to accommodate otherwise qualified students so they have equal access and opportunity to engage in any and all SFU offerings. Formerly known as the Centre for Students with Disabilities, its new title better reflects the centre’s current services and programs, acknowledges the significant paradigm shift in the way disabilities are conceptualized, and supports SFU’s increasing commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion.

For more information, visit bit.ly/SFU_accessiblelearning