For the first time since the age of eight, Malini Ondrovcik says she feels like she is on a level playing field. Despite being legally blind, Malini said since starting her studies in the Master of Arts in Counselling Psychology (MACP) at Yorkville University she finally doesn’t feel different from her classmates.
“I don’t have to explain to my professors that I have this disability, I don’t have to figure out how I am going to get my textbooks, or how will I see the professor give his lecture, or how am I going to take notes,” Malini said. “With Yorkville everything is here right in front of me. I can adjust the computer the way I need it and I don’t have to worry about working around my disability.
That has been so amazing for me,” Malini said. “It has been so empowering for me.”
Malini is a 30-year-old mother and wife from Windsor, Ontario who works full time in the insurance industry. Malini also lives with a very rare condition called Stargardt disease, which she explained, is essentially a form of macular degeneration. Even with her glasses, Malini’s vision is only 20/300.
She was born with the condition, however it didn’t surface until the age of eight or nine when her vision started to dramatically deteriorate.
“A big problem with this disorder is that it is often misdiagnosed as a psychological problem because the physical symptoms often don’t show up that early on,” Malini explained. “So there is this disconnect where doctors are looking and they don’t see anything physically wrong, but the kid is saying they can’t see.”
It was then, when she was only in Grade 5, her struggles in the classroom started. She wasn’t able to see or participate in class and went to doctor, after doctor trying to figure out what was going on.
“I spent all of grade school and all of high school working around it and trying to figure out creative ways to work around it because no one offered me much help,” Malini explained. “I didn’t know how to ask for help. I just figured this was something I had to live with and something I had to figure out.”
Malini’s condition went undiagnosed until she was about 20 years old and in her final year of her undergraduate degree in university.
“It wasn’t until that point that I was able to get a little bit of help by getting larger print exams,” Malini said.
But, even subsequent to her diagnosis, Malini said she has had to fight to have certain accommodations made.
“It has been hell, for lack of a better word, having to explain to different supervisors, explain to HR, battle to get accommodations in place, just to do exactly what this program does, which is level the playing field,” Malini said. “I have never asked for anything over and above, I have never asked for anything special, I just felt that a level playing field is only fair.”
Despite the difficulties she faced, Malini said, she has no doubt it is those experiences that lead her to have an interest in counselling psychology, particularly when it comes to children.
“I feel that type of struggle is something that has definitely formed my personality,” she said. “And my misfortune could, perhaps help people in the future. It may even be worth it that I went through all the struggles I went through.”
Malini did her undergraduate degree in family relations with a minor in developmental psychology. She finished in 2006 and always intended to go on to complete further studies, but as is often is the case, life happened. She got a job as an insurance broker, got married, bought a house and had child.
But, for the past 10 years she had the desire to pursue a MACP rattling around in the back of her mind.
“Because of my vision I have a lot of limitations in terms of being in the classroom in addition to actually getting to school,” Malini said. “That is another complication I have.”
During her undergraduate degree, Malini had done a few courses online for the sake of convenience and she knew there was the option of taking her full Master’s degree online with Yorkville University. After a lot of research and investigation she enrolled in the program, which is offered entirely online.
“I am thrilled with this program, to be completely honest,” Malini said. “When I signed up for it I didn’t know what to expect, but the professors are amazing, the courses are amazing.”
She purchases her textbooks digitally and views them in as large of a print as she needs to. Similarly when she writes papers or participates in the class discussions, she can do so in a way that accommodates her different needs.
“Yorkville’s website even has added an accessibility option,” Malini said. “That’s not something that I necessarily need because I have my computer set up the way I need, but I was so happy to see they have built into the structure of the website that you can change things on there as well.”
Malini is in her final semester of the course work in the MACP and will start her practicum in May. She expects to graduate in December of this year.
After she graduates Malini plans to work with families and children. Ideally she would like to work within the school system, because she has no doubt there are many children out there with a variety of needs who aren’t having those needs met.
“It is important to me because I feel the struggles I went through in school weren’t addressed,” Malini said. “There were so many different facets of it. There was the physical issues, the emotional issues I dealt with as a result, feeling a lone, and feeling like no one was helping me.”