Meet the Stars and Director

We searched high and low for the perfect Canadians with vision loss to star in our new PSAs, and we found them. Fred LeBlanc and Shelby Travers are both living with a loss of sight, and both have first-hand experience battling common misconceptions about people who are blind or partially sighted.
 
Learn more about our stars, and the director of the PSAs, below.
 

Meet the stars

 
Meet Fred LeBlanc, star of the "Interview" PSA



As a firefighter for 29 years, Fred LeBlanc, 50, was in disbelief when he began to lose his vision in the fall of 2011.
 
“I first noticed a problem with my vision when I was doing computer work at night, but in less than a couple weeks, I was having the same issues during the day,” says LeBlanc.
That’s when he called his optometrist in Kingston and made an appointment.
 
“After my exam, my optometrist told me that he thought there may be something medical so he referred me to the eye clinic immediately,” says LeBlanc. “I went to see the ophthalmologist right away. It was a bit of a whirlwind, a lot of concern about what was happening to me.”
 
After a series of tests, LeBlanc still didn’t have a diagnosis other than being “legally blind”. At this point, his ophthalmologist referred him to CNIB.
 
“I didn’t understand how to take it, or what it meant. I was convinced they would find out what was wrong. Eventually it started to sink in, but I got pretty down about the situation,” says LeBlanc. “Realistically, I wasn’t going to be going back on the fire trucks, but I had been heavily involved with the provincial association for 14 years and I was exploring opportunities with the international association. I questioned myself. If I struggled with everyday tasks, how was I going to lead a fulfilling career?”
 
With the help of CNIB, LeBlanc received emotional support from other individuals who understand the impact of vision loss on everyday life.
 
“I thought ‘why can’t I do what I set out to do?’ I had to tell myself ‘don’t be silly, this is not your fault, there’s nothing to be ashamed of,’” says LeBlanc.
 
That’s when he decided to run for the 13th District Vice-President with the International Association of Fire Fighters – a position he was elected for and has continues to hold to date.
 
“CNIB instilled pride and confidence in me, and provided me with the tools to remain independent,” he says.
 
As the primary provider of post-vision loss rehabilitation therapy in Ontario, CNIB has enabled LeBlanc to lead a full and active life.
 
“Khadija, an independent living specialist, gave me helpful hints with everyday chores such as running the dishwasher, using the oven and counting money. Emily, an orientation and mobility specialist, taught me how to travel independently using a white cane; and Anne, a low vision specialist, has been terrific in terms of providing information about assistive technology,” says LeBlanc. “It takes a little bit longer to do the same things, but I’ve adapted and adjusted.”
 
As CNIB embarks on its new strategic plan, the Path to Change, to ensure timely delivery of post-vision loss rehabilitation therapy is available for people who are blind or partially sighted, LeBlanc will be there every step of the way.
 
“These rehabilitation services should be a part of the health care system to enable independence and instill confidence for people with vision loss," says LeBlanc. “I applaud CNIB for going down this path.”

 

In October 2007, Shelby Travers' life changed in a significant way when she was diagnosed with an arteriovenous malformation (AVM), a tangle of abnormal and poorly formed blood vessels. After undergoing numerous surgical procedures, Shelby was left with right homonymous hemianopsia, a neurological eye disorder that restricts the visual pathway causing blindness in the right hemisphere of the visual field.
 
Shelby was 14 years old at the time, a crucial time in development. She became depressed and struggled with anxiety as she was trying to cope with her new way of life.
 
"Everything was so different. From the way I walked, to the way I now had to pour myself a glass of water. Nothing was simple anymore," she says. "At the time, it seemed that everything I loved to do was now a challenge. Reading, acting, running – it all was so complicated."
 
It took years for Shelby to come into her own and it wasn't easy. Through high school, she had more barriers put in her way. Her peers at school no longer saw her as an equal, but rather someone to mock. Her teachers struggled to understand and implement adaptive technology. After a year of fighting for her life with AVM, she didn't want to fight anymore.
 
"I quit fighting. I just accepted that my life wasn't going to be the way it was anymore. I thought that for the rest of my existence I would never experience a barrier-free environment. Things would never be the way they were."
 
However, everything changed in 2014 when Shelby received her first guide dog, Frances, a gentle black lab. The fight for independence came back. But the stigmas remained. When walking with Frances, people often approached Shelby, making statements such as "You don't look blind, you can't be blind". After hearing these kind of misconceptions repeatedly, she decided to dedicate herself to changing the stigmas of vision loss and in turn, bettering the lives of people who are blind.
 
Shelby now studies at Toronto's Humber College in the Media Communications program. She is excelling in her education and extra-curricular activities such as school policies and politics. She also recently completed an internship with CNIB in the communications field where she experiences the barrier-free environment she has always longed for.
 
"Discovering my voice on change and equality was the most liberating thing I have ever experienced in my life. I now have purpose and know that my trauma has made my life great, not limited as I previously thought," Shelby says. "I look forward to where my blindness takes me next."