Disability no deterrent to completing degree

June 06, 2016

By Marianne Meadahl

You can’t miss her bright red wheelchair, but the first thing you’d notice about Amelia Cooper is her smile. The SFU graduand will be wearing it prominently on June 7, when she celebrates the completion of her bachelor of arts degree majoring in environmental geography.

Cooper, 26, expects it will be the first of many achievements. Living with Osteogenesis imperfecta, a condition often referred to as brittle bone disease, she set the bar not lower but merely a little further away to work at her own pace.

The disease makes her bones fragile and prone to breaking or wearing down. Scoliosis has additionally affected her spine. Earlier, as a 15-year-old teen, she braved rounds of radiation treatment in a successful battle with brain cancer.

Despite myriad health conditions Cooper was determined to get a university degree. Now she is eying a career as a geographic information systems (GIS) technician. The job involves a digital mapping technique that links computer-generated maps and databases. The technology integrates data for analyzing a variety of geographic measures.

Given her drive to succeed and her positive approach, Cooper has been something of a fixture on campus, where she immersed herself not only in studies but in campus social life as well.

“It has been an interesting time at SFU, between my studies and with being involved in student life,” says Cooper, who used Dragon software to type her essays, slowly but precisely, and was an avid member of the Geography Student Union.

Cooper grew up in Cloverdale and attended Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary school. She completed her first few years of post-secondary studies at nearby Kwantlen Polytechnic University before transferring to SFU, studying primarily in Burnaby.

She also finds time to work part-time as a human resources coordinator for BC Partners in WorkForce Innovation, a recruitment pilot project to help B.C. employers meet workforce needs and connect people with diverse abilities to employment opportunities.

Cooper expects her interest in mapping will serve her well as she further looks to advance into environmental consulting. And with a boyfriend who aims to become an actor, the future could land her anywhere.

“It’s exciting to think about what comes next,” she says. “Right now my opportunities are wide open.”