Terry Fox Medal

Sep 19, 2002, vol. 25, no. 2
By Marianne Meadahl

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Like her classmates, Amanda Ward knows the value of taking good notes during university lectures. But throughout her studies at SFU, Ward, this year's recipient of the Terry Fox medal, was unable to keep up to her lecturers because of a learning disability.

Instead, she relied on a tape recorder to capture the material, then painstakingly transcribed all of her lectures to obtain notes at a manageable pace. The time-consuming task became routine but left little time for a social life. After years of struggle to gain the edge over her disability, she had no problem living with the choice.

Ward's disability, discovered while in primary school, limits her ability to read, spell and do math. But it didn't prevent her from trying. With the help of tutors, supportive parents and a strong will, Ward managed to finish high school, then went on to earn a university degree with honours at SFU. A graduate in the school of criminology, she is nearing completion of her master's degree. And despite her personal battle with what she calls “an invisible affliction,” Ward now teaches a college-level course in forensic anthropology and spends any spare time doing volunteer work in prisons. “I can never overcome the disability, but I have spent my life working around it, and overcoming the negative reaction and consistent denial that it exists,” says Ward.

The Terry Fox award is given to a student who demonstrates the personal qualities of courage in adversity and dedication to society, exemplified by Terry Fox and his Marathon of Hope. She will receive it during SFU's second annual Terry Fox day on Sept. 19. “There is no visible impairment, no wheelchair, so it's often hard to convince people that it is there. But unseen disabilities are real. It took years of struggle to be able to function at the level I can now.”

Ward's current research grew out of an interest in how those with learning disabilities wind up in the justice system. Her thesis is on the impact of neurological impairment on the psychiatric population and involves 50 patients of the Forensic Psychiatric hospital in Coquitlam. Through her exploratory study she wants to find out whether the incidence of head injuries among those found not criminally responsible because of a mental disorder is high enough to warrant a further study.

Preliminary findings show as many as one third may have had head injuries involving some loss of consciousness. There are still times when Ward doubts her ability to succeed.

“I get moments where I think, ‘I can't do this,' but I've come to realize I am in a different place now,” says Ward, citing the positive influence of her father, Roger Ward, who recently retired as SFU's VP-finance. A bursary has been created in his name to help disabled undergraduate students. “I've come a long way. I want to show that with enough support, others who have learning disabilities can do it too.”

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