It could happen to anyone. While making dinner one evening in February, Woodsworth College student Neena Saloiya brushed a hot electric element with an oven mitt and touched off a major kitchen fire.
With her apartment in flames, Saloiya called 911, and relied on her guide dog, Ziggy, to find the exit and lead her down 20 flights of stairs. “He pushed me with his head as if to say, Go this way, ” says Saloiya, who has been blind since birth.
Although Toronto firefighters responded quickly, the blaze gutted the apartment, leaving Saloiya with just a cellphone and the clothes on her back. Counsellors from U of T’s student crisis response team and Accessibility Services moved quickly to assist. Within 24 hours, they had found Saloiya a residence suite, which she shared with three other students.
With her immediate comfort and safety assured, the focus shifted to Saloiya’s academic concerns. Woodsworth registrar Cheryl Shook met with her to assess her needs, and to ensure she could successfully complete her courses. “What we have been able to do for Neena we would do for any student in crisis,” says Shook.
Saloiya is one of more than 1,100 students on the St. George campus registered with Accessibility Services, an office within Student Affairs that provides accommodations to students with learning disabilities, hearing and vision impairments, mobility challenges and mental health issues. “We are thrilled that the university community has rallied around Neena to provide her with what she needs to continue her studies, virtually without interruption,” says Janice Martin, manager of Accessibility Services, noting that the Adaptive Technology Resource Centre has provided the computer equipment and specialized software she requires. ”I would like to say thank you to people,” says Saloiya, who moved back into her apartment in April, following renovations.