Asha Maharaj – Working and Living, the Journey with Vision Loss

Asha MaharajMy name is Asha Maharaj, from Vancouver, BC, and I'm living with a degenerative eye condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP).
 
I was diagnosed at the age of 17 and the doctors told me that I was already legally blind, with a further prognosis of substantial vision loss in the next two years. At the time, it was hard to comprehend the gravity of what that would mean, regarding my future, my hopes, my dreams.
I was numb, and recall my parents asking “Why” to themselves and perhaps even to God. This was the beginning of my journey with vision loss.
 
I made the conscious decision to just keep moving forward, regardless of what the inevitable might be, and that meant pursuing my education. Enrolling in courses at Douglas College was my first step and it is also where I experienced my first stumbling block. Halfway through my second year it was beginning to get difficult to read standard print, in fact, it was taking me nearly four hours to get through a single reading assignment. This led to me leaving the college and spending four painful years of not having a purpose.
 
It was through the discovery of assistive technology by connecting with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB), that I learned about magnification software, CCTV’s and various other devices. Then my dream of getting an education was back on track. I decided to get my Marketing Communications Diploma from the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT), where I graduated with an achievement award.
 
I'm currently employed with the largest financial cooperative in Canada in an Advisor role in the Human Resources department.
My employment history includes roles ranging from Consultant Business Transformation to Policies & Procedures Specialist, as well as, various Communications positions.
 
What are some of the things that I've learned along the way?
  • Disclosure about disability is a personal choice, however, for my situation it wasn't a choice, because I require accommodation by way of assistive technology. In my experience disclosure about my disability was not a hindrance. For many of the jobs that I didn't get, I know for the ones that I did, it ultimately brought me career growth and opportunity within a progressive organization.
  • Having a sense of self is highly important in all areas of my life. Since vision loss affects all areas of my life, self-awareness becomes critically important. As a person with a sensory disability my unfortunate experience at times has been that people put their assumptions and labels on me. Through deep reflection and honesty and knowing who I am, my sense of self is intact and keeps me from being undermined.
  • Getting comfortable with vulnerability was a huge hurdle for me to overcome. In the last several years I had to start using a mobility cane and this was a visible identifier of my disability. I have and will continue to receive mobility instruction from the CNIB, and I'm realizing it's our vulnerabilities that make us all equal as human beings.
  • There is nothing like giving back and in my capacity as a volunteer peer mentor at the CNIB I have been given the privilege of supporting people that are new to vision loss. There is a true reciprocity in the interaction, which I cherish. 
I'm eternally grateful for the opportunities that I've had and the support of my family, friends, colleagues and the CNIB. I still don't know where the journey will lead me, but I'm very curious.