Thunder Bay's Scott Garner breaks down barriers

August 3 2017 - Scott Garner.jpgWhile Scott Garner, 41, was born with some vision loss, he didn’t require CNIB services until his vision started to significantly deteriorate at 21 years of age.

After experiencing a retinal detachment, Garner turned to CNIB, the primary provider of post vision-loss rehabilitation therapy for Ontarians, to help him maintain his independence through employment services and independent travel instruction.

“It was very important. These skills helped me build confidence during a time when I was really struggling. Thankfully, CNIB’s orientation and mobility training has helped me remain independent, despite living in a number of communities,” says Garner. “When I graduated secondary school, I wanted to be a journalist, but I quickly realized it would be challenging for me to get to the story ‘first’ if I had to rely on public transit.”

Upon reflection and part of his personal journey to overcome the challenges of vision loss, Garner attended Mohawk College in Brantford in hopes of becoming an Independent Living Specialist and helping others build everyday skills such as safely pouring a cup of coffee, using household appliances and identifying money. That dream was realized in 2006 when he began working for CNIB in Northern Ontario.

“It was extremely rewarding to be able to help people regain their independence, especially seniors. Often, they would break down in tears when I showed them a simple adaptation that could make their lives easier, and that was very humbling,” says Garner.

Currently, Garner works for the City of Thunder Bay as a Municipal Accessibility Specialist.

“Part of my role is to break down barriers for people with disabilities. While people often think about the structural barriers, the attitudinal barriers are the biggest challenges,” says Garner. “Luckily, I work in a supportive environment, but others face challenging misconceptions about how they will be able to contribute because of their disability – it can be difficult to convince employers that you’re employable.”

In 2010, Garner had surgery in hopes of regaining some of his vision. Fortunately, it was successful.

“I’m still not able to drive, but I’m able to use computer software that magnifies the text and provides colour contrast. In the past, I relied on a screen-reader,” says Garner.

After the surgery, Garner says it was like walking into a cartoon.

“Before, I could only see shapes and colours. Now, I could see a kaleidoscope of colours. All of these details were coming back to me and it was overwhelming,” says Garner. “At first, I remember pointing at signs and getting excited about being able to read a ‘no parking’ sign. And, when I saw my wife for the first time, she was as beautiful as I thought she was and that was comforting,” he says with a smile. “It was also really exciting to watch the hockey playoffs. For the first time in years, I could see the hockey jerseys.”

While Garner’s story is encouraging, he’s hesitant about sharing it because he doesn’t want to give anyone false hope. For a lot of individuals who are blind or partially sighted, regaining their vision is not a reality so access to post-vision loss rehabilitation therapy – a health care service that is essential to safety, mobility and independence, is vital when it comes to leading an active, confident life.