"Going to college laid the foundation for me to achieve. Just because there are barriers doesn't mean you can't overcome them."
It was about 18 years ago when Dawn Balanky was in a car accident that threatened her life, not to mention her future as a working, functioning adult.
Dawn suffered a head injury that put her first in intensive care, then in a day rehabilitation program at Sharp Hospital. It was there she heard about programs and services for disabled students at Mesa College.
"The Mesa program helped me overcome my disability through learning strategies," she says. "The program laid the foundation for me to achieve, and actually taught me that there are accommodations provided for you. I think that early on I knew I wanted to share this knowledge. with others in my situation."
Dawn eventually transferred to San Diego State University, where she earned her degree in psychology, with a minor in communication disorders, then went on to gain her master's degree in counseling in 1999.
Dawn worked for U.S. Customs, then went on to work at the California Department of Rehabilitation, where today she counsels others who once went through the same pain, fear and uncertainty she did.
"As a vocational rehabilitation counselor, I know exactly what the people I'm helping are going through," Dawn says. "Helping them has helped me continue the emotional healing that began so many years ago."
Dawn says her pursuit of education taught her there are avenues for those with disabilities to learn and complete their education. "When you are in that situation, you first need to be an advocate for yourself," she says. "If you are lucky, you can someday become an advocate for others."
Persistence and perseverance were the keys for Dawn, who says she now instructs those she counsels to seek the advice of family, friends and education experts when looking to achieve scholastic goals.
"The best support systems are right where you expect them to be," she says.
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