The Capano Case – overcoming stigma around learning disabilities

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Aside from being a third year sport management student at Brock University, Vince Capano is the vice president of the sport management council, the director of business operations with the men’s hockey team and a vocal advocate for students with learning disabilities. Capano, himself, has a learning disability and has coped with severe anxiety.

“I think there’s many people like me that don’t think they have a voice,” Capano said.

In the absence of other strong role models and peer support for students with learning disabilities on campus, Capano has filled the role. However, he says not much has changed in his life as a result. “It doesn’t change anything for me, if I can help people, I will,” Capano said. “It’s a responsibility, and responsibility is a good thing.”

Capano initially chose to attend Brock because of its positive reputation with academic accommodations.

Accommodations for students with disabilities are managed by the Student Accessibility Services (SAS).  Therefore, students are assigned an experienced case manager who works within the field. These individuals secure accomodations on behalf of the student.

“My case manager is fantastic, the learning strategist is unbelievable… without them, obviously, I wouldn’t have the good things that happened so far,” Capano said. “I feel proud to be a part of it.”

SAS seeks to tailor accommodations to each student who registers.

“Classroom accommodations are based on individual documented needs. These accommodations can include, sign language interpreters, support in accessing lecture materials, ensuring accessible classrooms, and providing specialized classroom equipment,” the SAS section of the Brock website states.

The support Capano has received in seeking accommodations is not mirrored everywhere on campus. As a first-year student, Capano made an appointment with a psychologist as part of a five-year assessment and left with a mission.

Capano said: “When I was done with it, they said that I wouldn’t be able to complete university…. They said, ‘you can’t do it. You should go to the college level. It will be a very difficult time for you to do well at this.’ So, ever since then I’ve been trying to prove them wrong, and it’s been working out well so far.”

While Capano chose to view the incident as a motivating force, he said the experience was initially painful, making a strong negative impact. “When you hear that, when you hear ‘you’re not good enough…’ My confidence level went down, and it took me a while to get it back up,” Capano  added.

To other students who have been told their learning disability means they are not capable, Capano has a strong message: “You can do it. When there’s a doubt, you can. My dad told me a long time ago if you’re not feeling pain in trying to achieve something then it’s not worth it… You’ve got to keep pushing. Keep going.”

Capano cites his family as invaluable in helping him navigate university. In particular, his mother’s support and advocacy on his behalf has altered the course of his education, Capano claims.

“My mom is my biggest advocate. Without her, I wouldn’t probably be at Brock. This school situation would be very different without her. She always believed, and she always kept me going,” Capano said.

Capano also acknowledged the support of the high school guidance counselor who helped encourage him in preparing for university. This counselor once brought Capano a newspaper article and insisted that one day she would read about Capano in a newspaper.

“She said, ‘one day, this is going to be you,’ and I’ll never forget those words. Moments like those, when someone says those certain words, you never forget it,” Capano elaborated.

The help Capano has received from loved ones and professionals supplements his tireless efforts to achieve academically while understanding his own needs. Throughout his time at Brock, Capano has found studying strategies that work for him.

“I like starting assignments really early. When it comes out, that week I’m already putting my plan together and a timeline of everything I want to achieve before the due date. With tests, I study three weeks before, four weeks before,” Capano said. However, “Everybody’s different. You’ve got to do what’s best for yourself.”

As third year student, graduation is looming for Capano. While he has many dreams for his time after Brock, he also chooses to focus on the present.

“I try not to get too caught up in the future. I think it’s important to recognize what can happen but it’s also important to focus on what’s happening now,” Capano said. “The door is always open for something new.”

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