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The Honourable David C. Onley, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, to present awards at a ceremony today

 Like any typical teenager, Nadine Richard moved out of her parents' house when she was 17 years old. What makes Richard's story exceptional is the fact that she is physically disabled. She has spinal muscular atrophy, a motor neuron disorder; as a result, her muscles have been slowly deteriorating since she was young. She has used a wheelchair since she was in kindergarten and she relies on people to help her perform daily tasks. She has overcome obstacles her entire life. Today, one more barrier will be eliminated when Richard will join a growing number of recipients of the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute (Toronto Rehab) Scholarship in Rehabilitation-related Research for Graduate Students with Disabilities.

The scholarship, believed to be the first-of-its-kind in Canada, will provide Richard with $20,000 plus additional funding for educational expenses incurred as a result of her disability to help her pursue her doctorate degree. The scholarship is made possible by TD Bank Financial Group, which has pledged $550,000 to date. Toronto Rehab created the scholarship to engage people with disabilities in a meaningful way in rehabilitation research. At the same time, their involvement will enhance the relevance and quality of rehabilitation research and break down the barriers that students with disabilities often face when pursuing advanced education.

"This unique scholarship recognizes the strengths that I, as someone with a disability, can bring to rehabilitation research," says Richard. "Being on full scholarship also means that I can devote all of my time and energy to my research, which will really help me finish up my PhD."

The Honourable David C. Onley, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, will present Richard with her scholarship on Wednesday, November 19, at a special ceremony during Toronto Rehab's fourth annual Research Day. This event showcases the scientific work taking place at the hospital and celebrates the successes of its graduate students and researchers. The goal of the day is to encourage further discussion, debate, collaboration and growth of the hospital's $9 million research program in rehabilitation science.

The Lieutenant Governor, who has lived with a disability since he contracted polio as a youth, knows first-hand how research in rehabilitation science is yielding advances that make the world more accessible for everyone.

"It has been estimated that the number of Canadians with disabilities will exceed four million by 2011," says His Honour. "he need for research and development of newer and better assistive technologies and therapies has never been greater."

Richard is completing her PhD in psychology at the University of Toronto. The scholarship will help her complete her current research, testing treatments for attention and memory problems in people living with multiple sclerosis. She also looks at brain activity to see how different brain areas communicate with each other when processing new information and integrating it with memories, goals and other internal information before responding. By looking at the combination of a person's behaviour and their brain activity, she seeks to understand how the brain recovers or adapts over the course of rehabilitation.

"We recognize Nadine's potential as a research leader of the future and we are very pleased to help her develop both academically and professionally," says Dr. Geoff Fernie, Vice President of Research at Toronto Rehab. "Rehabilitation research is becoming more critical as the population ages and as people live longer."

In addition to this year's scholarship, a $5,000 research training award will be presented at Research Day to Reza Javaheri. He is the recipient of Toronto Rehab's Research Training Award for Students with Disabilities which will support his education in rehabilitation research. The award recognizes both his achievements to date and his future contributions to the field as a rehabilitation scientist.

Javaheri, 35, came to Canada five years ago to pursue a new life outside of his native Iran. He contracted polio when he was two and is almost paralyzed from the waist down as a result. He uses crutches to assist his mobility. The PhD candidate in Electrical and Computer Engineering and Biomedical Engineering at Ryerson University is developing a microchip device that attaches to a person's skin and helps stimulate impaired muscles the same way the brain does, causing them to function again.

To make the microchip effective for people with a variety of conditions, he is identifying and analyzing the electrical signals sent from the brain to muscles in able bodied people and comparing them to the signals sent by people with motor impairments. Because these signals are unique to each individual, the device will be designed to adjust and work with each persons signal patterns.

Past scholarship recipients, Laura Moll, Gail Kunkel and Alexandra Arnold-Oatley, will also be honoured at Research Day where their scholarships will be renewed.


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