Donor creates award for Deaf learners in memory of her daughter

Frances Jablonca recognizes the need Deaf learners have for financial supports among other accommodations to help them succeed at school.

When Charlotte McKinnon was born with a congenital birth condition, including being Deaf and legally blind, her mom, Frances Jablonca, knew she had to give her child a non-verbal as well as written language.

“She needed to build language so she could function in the Deaf world and the hearing world,” Frances says. “Being literate was crucial.” Frances explains that American Sign Language is a distinct language with a different set of grammatical rules from English. Plurals, past tense structures, and sentence order, for example, are not expressed the same way, so it is important for those with Deafness to learn them through English grammar study and reading.

Charlotte gained fluency in sign language, and immersed herself in Deaf culture. She went to Deaf and Hard of Hearing programs offered by the Calgary Public School Board and then enrolled in a work preparation class at Mount Royal University. She got a job at a recreation facility and was a communicative, loving member of the family.

Frances was an English Language instructor at Bow Valley College. She enrolled Charlotte in evening courses at Bow Valley College specifically for Deaf learners to teach them strategies to gain literacy. She also studied Upgrading and kept working on her literacy by reading to increase her vocabulary, and writing.

Charlotte, besides being Deaf, was also legally blind so she required special adaptations to see print. Her learning had to be meticulously planned.

At Bow Valley College, Learner Success Services provides accessibility aids for its learners with special needs. For Charlotte, this included enlarged print reading materials, access to interpreters, and closed-circuit television. The Deaf learners also wrote their exams in special rooms with access to interpreters. All of this support enabled Charlotte to meet her learning goals.

Charlotte died three years ago at 22 years old, due to complications of her congenital heart condition. Frances wanted to do something that could help other Deaf learners, but she wasn’t sure of how.

Fund Development Officer Stacey Smith met with Frances and together they developed the idea of creating a memorial scholarship for Deaf learners in Charlotte McKinnon’s name, to which Frances and others could contribute. That made the process infinitely easier.

“I think it’s great,” Frances says. “Depending on their situation, many Deaf people need support like this to help them be able to go to school and to complete their education.”

Posted January 8, 2019

Story and photo by Anne Georg

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