Blindness does not define BC teen with bright future: will walk in CNIB Night Steps to help others

8/25/2015

How vividly do you remember your teen years? For most, it’s a time of self-discovery with a healthy dose of awkwardness – images of Bambi trying to find his footing on the ice come to mind – but, for 18-year-old Jillian Sloane from Dawson Creek, that sensation of yearning to stand on her own two feet was confounded by losing her vision at age 15.

Born three months premature, Jillian’s vision was affected by retinopathy of prematurity – a condition that can lead to blindness as a result of complications with the development of the retinal blood vessels in the eye.

As a child, Jillian was comfortably functioning with low vision, but that changed when she started high school.

“It was hard,” recalls Jillian. “I missed a lot of school in grades nine and ten, but my teachers were very accommodating and supported me to make sure I didn’t fall behind. I went from being able to read large print to not being able to see the board or words on a page at all.”

Jillian’s retina had detached and despite her doctors’ best efforts to save her sight, she woke up after her final surgery with no remaining vision.

“Before my surgery, my mom told me that no matter what might happen she would be there for me,” says Jillian. “Her strength gives me strength. She is a tough lady who refuses to put me in a bubble and she wants me to be independent.”

So, Jillian took her blindness in stride and didn’t skip a beat. She began working with an Orientation and Mobility Specialist to learn how to travel safely with a white cane.

“I got tired of relying on my family to guide me around when we went shopping or out to dinner. I could feel that it was annoying for others, and it was annoying for me too,” recalls Jillian.

As she gained confidence and trust in her cane skills, Jillian discovered a newfound freedom that contributed to landing a part-time job at the local Safeway where she continued to work for three years. Additionally, she started attending CNIB Kids Camp for children and youth who are blind or partially sighted. There, Jillian found her footing.

“I love going to camp because I don’t feel like I stand out there,” says Jillian. “At school I’m ‘The Blind Girl,’ but at camp we’re all in the same boat and we can relate.”

A self-described adventurer, Jillian jumped into the activities and challenges on offer at camp – her favourites include rock wall climbing (this year she made it to the top!), high ropes, kayaking, horseback riding and soccer. 

The friendships Jillian formed at camp are connections she feels will last a lifetime, and she credits them for her growing comfort with being blind.

While Jillian has worked with CNIB to learn essential life skills like how to use assistive technology to help with her studies, pour a glass of water without making a mess and use her white cane with ease, it’s the magic of CNIB Kids Camp that puts a smile on her face. 

It is clear that these experiences have contributed to making Jillian the independent and confident young woman she is – a young woman who is about to start college in the fall and plans to pursue a degree in social work.

“Looking back on when this all started, I told myself that sitting in a room feeling sad wasn’t an option. It was super hard, but I pulled myself out of that spot,” says Jillian. “I want people to know that there’s so much more to a blind person than just being blind. The only thing that changed about me is that I lost my sight. I’m still me, I am not my disability.” 

On Saturday, September 19th, Jillian and her family will walk in CNIB Night Steps, a 5km fundraising walk under the stars, in Prince George to raise vital funds to support vision rehabilitation services for community members who are blind or partially sighted. To help individuals like Jillian reach their full potential, register for CNIB Night Steps today at cnibnightsteps.ca​.

Back to top of page