Disability Credit Canada knows that education is a critical step in opening the doors of opportunity. Yet for the millions of Canadians living with a disability, pursuing secondary education can come with increased challenges. We recognize how difficult the education system can be, and want to provide every opportunity to students with disabilities as they pursue their academic journey. That’s why, in 2019 we launched our Disability Credit Canada Scholarship, providing $1,000 to one student, to assist them in their scholastic success.
2020 winner of DCCI Scholarship for Canadian Students with Disabilities
This year, we are proud to announce Preston Swan-Merrison as our 2020 recipient of this scholarship. Preston is a high school senior trailblazing a new path through his advocacy, social initiatives, and tireless work ethic.
PRESTON SWAN-MERRISON, SOCIAL SERVICE FIRST YEAR STUDENT AT UNIVERSITY OF WINDSOR
Preston suffers from Type 1 Diabetes, as well as learning disabilities, such as Central Auditory Processing Disorder. Yet Preston has never let these issues keep him from staying in the world, including playing competitive sports, being an active community volunteer, and even sitting on the Youth Council of MP Kate Young.
We sat down with Preston to hear more about his incredible story, how he navigates his disabilities and, what his plans are for, what we know will be a bright and promising future.
1)Tell us your name, and how you heard about this scholarship.
My name is Preston Swan-Merrison. My teacher told me to apply for the Disability Credit Canada (DCCI) scholarship because she felt all that I am a leader in the community and still face my many day to day struggles as a student with both medical and learning disabilities. She said by sharing my story I can help others. I was very excited to apply.
2) What is your disability? Tell us a bit about it.
I was diagnosed at 9 years old with Type1 Juvenile Diabetes. I am insulin-dependent and wear an insulin pump. Pretty much without insulin I would not be alive today. Everything and anything that goes into my mouth has to be counted, or weighed, I have to check my blood sugars 4-8 times a day, often up checking sugars at 2 AM, taking insulin, making sure I eat snacks, this gets to be so frustrating at times-it’s a 24 hour a day job. I have no breaks from diabetes. I was also diagnosed with various learning disabilities as well as Central Auditory Processing disorder (CAP). This meant that I needed to find ways to adapt in class and how I learned. Teachers need to wear an FM microphone system so I could concentrate on what they are saying and not be distracted by other background noise or class distractions.
3) What are some of the challenges you face daily because of your Disabilities?
Pretty much without insulin I would not be alive today. Everything and anything that goes into my mouth has to be counted, or weighed, I have to check my blood sugars 4-8 times a day, take insulin, make sure I eat snacks, this gets to be so frustrating at times-it’s a 24 hour a day job. I have no breaks from diabetes.
I hate the days that I feel that my diabetes has taken away my childhood. I hate it for making it almost impossible to be spontaneous and just do whatever I want. I hate it for making me scared. I hate it because it changed me for who I thought I was and wanted to be. I have overcome a lot but all of this has made me a stronger person.
4) How does having a disability make pursuing secondary education more challenging? What are some of the unique challenges you may be facing?
Because of my disabilities, starting my new adventure away from home will be challenging. I will need to ensure I have all the safety measures in place to stay safe and have people check on me in case I ever have a bad high or low blood sugars. I will need to navigate a new learning system and be open about my disabilities and my struggles.
5) Tell us a bit about your advocacy and outreach work? How have your experiences with a disability helped you advocate for this community?
Over the past many years, I have been on a mission both personal and charitable to help the community with regards to educating and empowering children and youth and alleviating stigma associated with various medical conditions while facing my own personal struggles. I may have been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes but did not let diabetes define me!
I am bilingual in French and English, play competitive hockey as a goalie, and many other sports. I am on many school sports teams and sit on the student council including MP Kate Young’s youth council.
I have collaborated with non-profit and community oriented organizations like JDRF, CDA, The Epilepsy South western Ontario, PEPP-LHSC (Prevention and Early Intervention Program for Psychoses Creative Minds Art Show, CMHA (Canadian Mental Health Association), The JCC (The Jewish Community Centre), and the Brain Library. Due to my most recent #SOCKTOBER events-raising socks for the homeless. I have a real passion to help the homeless and partner with agencies to those who may need a little extra support.
My passion for prompting seizure first aid training is something I always will continue to do. Advocating for my sister with epilepsy as she faces this journey of undergoing brain surgery and navigating through her many seizures, she will always know that she is never alone! I also enjoy mentoring youth who have been newly diagnosed with T1D I will meet with them and give them a copy of my book.
Well, I thought diabetes was tough and going to be a life sentence filled with challenges and thought I faced a lot of stigma around it but soon realized that was not the case. A year after I was diagnosed my sister was diagnosed with epilepsy after having a really bad seizure at school, we did not know she had epilepsy. A few weeks later she had another seizure on the school bus and the driver and kids all panicked. Luckily for me I was the bus patroller and I had some training in seizure first aid and went into action, I was able to keep my sister safe, calm the other children and get the help she needed.
Kids started teasing my sister at school she was no longer being invited to birthday parties or sleepovers, kids were basically afraid of my sister. Because of this I decided it was time to educate the school on seizure first aid, teach others what to do and not be afraid and break down the stigma associated with epilepsy. The last 3 years in March on World Wide Purple Day for Epilepsy Awareness I run a fun and informative day to educate the school on seizure first aid and what to do if someone has a seizure. I partner with the Epilepsy Support Centre, the police, the fire department, the EMS, RCMP and other local agencies, they bring with mascots and we create a fun day of learning about epilepsy and educate everyone on what to do and be not afraid.
Playing for the Lucan Irish, an AP for the Chatham Maroons hockey teams this year has been a great experience and allowed me to progress to a whole other level in sports. It has allowed me to push and challenge myself in many different ways, allowed me to grow and show me that I still can follow my dreams and give 100% at all times. Working three part-time jobs, saving money, maintaining school, applying to universities, helping care for my sister, logging in almost 2000 of volunteer hours, managing my health has all caused me to become an adult a little earlier than maybe I wanted to but are things that have encouraged me to be strong and given me great courage.
6) How will this scholarship help you at school?
This scholarship will help me pay my tuition since I will be covering all my own expenses, I have been working 3 part time jobs and learning to save and budget has been a real eye opener. I am very appreciative of this scholarship.
7) How does it feel to have been the recipient of this award?
Being able to share my story and speak openly about my struggles is very important to me. This scholarship will help me get my story out and hopefully help motivate others. No matter what happens in life you can follow your dreams, help others with your story and never quit! We are all humans, we all make mistakes, and need to learn from them. We can always do more.
8) What will you study at school and what are your long-term career goals?
I will attend the University of Windsor this Fall to pursue my passion to be a teacher hoping to help children just like me who face struggles. I was accepted to a 5-year concurrent program which will give me two degrees. I hope to pursue a career in politics, and teaching I hope to always to continue to bring awareness to causes close to my heart no matter where I find myself.
9) What do you wish everyone knew about disabilities?
Sometimes we need to conquer our fears and reflect on the life we have been given. I am facing this disease that I have a love-hate relationship with. I live with the stigma every day and live this journey helping not only myself but others. Everyone is fighting a battle we do not always see so we need to be kind. My disabilities are not visible unless of course you see my pump hanging off me so we need to remember everyone is struggling in some way especially during these trying Covid times.
10) What would you tell someone with a disability who is thinking about going to Post-secondary school?
I would tell them to follow your dreams and never give up. A lot of support is available, do not be afraid to disclose your disability or be ashamed because everyone is fighting a belittle of some type. A few teachers along the way said with all my struggles I would never go to
University. Well, they were wrong, here I am. I applied to many universities and have been accepted to a couple. I may not be the top student but I worked hard and pushed through and did not let anything or anyone stop me, my future is bright.
We here at Disability Credit Canada fully believe that Preston, with his fortitude, optimism and tireless perseverance is heading for a bright and impressive future!
We would like to thank everyone who applied for our scholarship for this 2020 year, and are wishing all students and learners pursuing education in the fall a safe, positive and productive educational year ahead.