By: Brigitte Berry
Learning disabilities do not necessarily dictate an individual’s ability to learn.
That’s what Algonquin student Jessica Aston proved when she became the first person to graduate the intensive massage therapy program despite having a learning disability.
Not only was she the first to graduate with a learning disability, but she was also chosen by her professors out of 38 other students to attend a seminar in Boston to demonstrate her remarkable scar massage treatments. In addition, after graduating in 2008 Aston was hired by two of her professors at Westboro’s Kneaded Touch Clinic.
“Just because I have a disability doesn’t make me less intelligent or incapable. I can do anything you can, I just do it differently,” said Aston.
She has what is called time and test anxiety, which affects the way she learns and puts her at a disadvantage to other students. Both testing and time limits would result in a substantial amount of stress, much more than the average person.
She was diagnosed with her learning disability in grade 10 while in high school but never allowed it to be an excuse.
“I have always had the same positive attitude towards my disability. I don’t believe anyone has the right to tell anyone they can’t do something,” said Aston.
She specifically enrolled at Algonquin over any other colleges or universities after a considerable amount of research and consideration. Aston vigorously advocates for the college, never regretting her choice.
“I would never choose any other school other than Algonquin,” said Aston. “They want you to achieve and they want you to graduate.”
According to Aston, her experience at Algonquin was very good. The staff supported her and always encouraged her to reach her goals.
The Centre for Students with Disabilities also helped Aston while she was at the school. She said they were extremely supportive and even referred to them as a family. They helped her through her disability so she could get the same kind of education as any other student.
Throughout her time at Algonquin, Aston had a scribe with her during class who would help her write down notes. Admittedly, Aston said having a scribe was difficult because other students would notice she was different.
Ultimately, Jessica stood out to her classmates because of her success and hard work, rather than her disability.
“Jessica took charge of her education and steered her way through all of the obstacles that she came up against. I found myself to be amazed by the amount of passion and integrity that Jessica showed on her path towards her dream to be a massage therapist,” said a classmate of Aston’s, Sarah Richardson.
Aston always had a positive attitude, even at the young age of seven years old. She recalled that when she was a Girl Guide and went out selling boxes of cookies, she would never give up.
“We used to go for hours, and I would make sure to go to every door. It would be eight o’clock and my dad would want to call it quits. But I would be like no, I have a whole case left, we’re going to keep going. I’m not going to quit,” said Aston.
Even at Algonquin, Aston was frequently advised to take on less workload and graduate in three years rather than two. However, her unflinching persistence wouldn’t let her chose the easy route.
“I decided to take it on. I pushed through,” she said.
Currently, Aston is working at Westboro’s Kneaded Touch Clinic and still visits Algonquin to tutor other students.