By Cynthia Lee
It’s mission accomplished for new grad Sandra Gualtieri.
After an arduous, 15-year journey, Gualtieri has just graduated with a B.A. in Women’s Studies and Sociology. Along the way, her perseverance and drive to succeed were pivotal in transforming her dream to reality.
Gualtieri has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. Her impairment consists of mobility and speech impediments combined with a learning disability. Because of this, since first starting her studies at McGill in 1997, she took only one course every semester in pursuit of the 90 credits needed to complete her double major.
“I was attracted to Women’s Studies because as a female with a physical disability, I wanted to be more knowledgeable about issues that women like me face. I also chose Sociology because it interested me to look at individuals in society and to try to interpret their interactions,” said Gualtieri.
Gualtieri found the majority her professors supportive, most notably Jacqueline Reid, Kenneth MacKenzie and Yolanda Munoz, “They were an inspiration because they believed in me,” she said.
But, like other students with disabilities, being at McGill posed its own set of challenges: everything from issues with accessibility to needing assistance with the physical aspects of researching and writing papers. For help, Gualtieri looked to the Office for Students with Disabilities (OSD), and found a weath of resources and people well equipped to make her undergraduate studies easier.
“The OSD helped me find everything from note takers, academic support and people who helped me with research and writing papers. Attendant care assisted me with my physical needs such as eating and personal hygiene. Then there are the people that helped me get around campus. McGill can be tricky to get around in a wheelchair, especially during the winter months.”
Gualtieri also credits the folks at OSD for giving her the boost she needed to help her through some dark moments, times when she felt like giving up.
But, says Gordon Dionne, Access Services Advisor, OSD, “Sandra has been such a vibrant presence in our office, and it has been a boost for us to see her come in. She has a smile for everyone. We are ecstatic to see her graduate after all her hard work, but at the same time, it is tough to see her go – she’s always been such a joy to work with.”
If Gualtieri had her wish for ways to improve McGill, it would be primarily to advance accessibility on campus.
“Throughout my years of study, I have seen major changes in terms of accessibility. But the Redpath Museum in particular is one of the buildings that is disappointing, because it is not wheelchair accessible. Many attempts have been made in terms of possible adaptations, but unfortunately, due to structural and historical aspects of the building, this has not yet been accomplished.” Her dream? Accessibility for one and all.
As for her advice for students with disabilities: “Never give up on your dreams. It might take a bit longer or be harder to accomplish, but patience and determination are the key.”
Gualtieri got a standing ovation as she crossed the stage on Thursday, June 7 at the 10 a.m. ceremony at the Bell Centre.