Fluent in three languages – English, French and Mandarin – Surrey science student Angell Lu-Lebel earned an invitation to the Golden Key International Honours Society after finishing in the top 15 per cent of her class at SFU.
It’s a significant achievement for any university student (Golden Key is the largest collegiate honour society), but perhaps even more impressive for Lu-Lebel, who has been blind since birth.
Born with congenital amaurosis, a rare inherited eye disease, Lebel has seldom let anything hold her back from learning.
Navigating her classes and the SFU campus was challenging, but with assistance from her guide dog Koby, a golden retriever/Labrador-cross who has been piloting her around campus for the past seven years, and from several of her professors, she excelled.
One of Lu-Lebel’s biggest challenges was learning calculus, a subject that’s designed around visual learning.
To help her overcome this issue, her professor, Natalia Kouzniak, and teaching assistant Poojay Pandey, integrated flexible, wax-coated strings called Bendaroos into their teaching. Kouzniak used the strings to lay out graphs, while Lu-Lebel used them to plot curves and understand the geometrical set-up of problems.
In addition to her success in academics, Lu-Lebel is also an accomplished athlete. She is a six-time Canadian National Championship medallist in goalball—a sport for the visually impaired in which two teams of three take turns throwing a ball with bells attached into each other’s net.
Lu-Lebel credits her achievements to the guidance she received from mentors as she grew up. Now a mentor at Blind Beginnings, she is paying it forward.
“I mentor visually impaired children and their parents because a lot of the time parents are just finding out that their children are blind,” she says.
“It can be a stressful experience. Parents don’t know what to do and they panic a bit.”
Lu-Lebel now plans to get her teaching certificate, with the hope of working with students with special needs.