Karen Turvey's academic life was cut short almost 40 years ago.
Born with cerebral palsy, Karen had a mainstream education up until 1978 when she was in Grade 10. Physical barriers and a lack of available assistance at the time meant she had to leave high school.
It wasn't until 2014 that Karen learned about the Brant Skills Centre from one of her support workers at Participation House, a charitable organization in Brantford that provides support and services to those with physical disabilities.
"Obtaining her high school diploma was on Karen's bucket list and she felt this was the time and place to check it off her list," said Elizabeth Gosse of the Brant Skills Centre who nominated Karen as an Education WORKS Champion.
Karen began her learning journey in November of 2014 at the centre, a registered charity based in Brantford that is committed to helping adults improve their literacy and essential skills to increase their independence.
Karen's ultimate goal was to earn her high school diploma.
Using workbooks and education software on an iPad and computer, Karen improved her grammar and comprehension.
In February 2015, Karen signed up for e-learning courses through the Learning Hub, working independently for the most part, with assistance from her instructor, Liz, to improve her math skills.
By October, Karen was ready to sign up for online secondary school credit courses through Grand Erie Learning Alternatives, which offers a variety of credit courses to earn a high school diploma.
"I didn't think my brain could take it," joked Karen.
Elizabeth is impressed with Karen's perseverance.
"Although she experiences physical challenges, having limited use of only one hand, and uses a motorized wheelchair to get around, she didn't let those challenges stop her from achieving her learning goals."
The Brant Skills Centre was able to get Karen a modified mouse/joystick and a wireless keyboard that would fit in her wheelchair tray in order to type. Karen was also able to purchase a computer so she could do her online courses at home.
Karen said she was inspired by her brother-in-law, Neil, who earned his PhD last year at Arizona University. After attending his graduation, Karen was determined to pursue her education. Karen's mom, Helen; sister Jessica; and roommate Christine are all enthusiastic cheerleaders.
"She is a positive role model, encouraging her peers and demonstrating that learning is possible no matter what barriers may exist," said Elizabeth.