Whitehorse woman with vision loss blazes trails

9/21/2015

When Wendy Springford’s parents learned their baby was blind in 1951, her future looked uncertain.

Given that expectations were so low for what a blind woman could achieve at that time, Wendy decided early on – with the support of her family – to dedicate her life to breaking down barriers.

“I feel privileged to be a trailblazer,” says Wendy. “But it wasn’t always an easy road.”

Born premature, Wendy developed retinopathy of prematurity, a disease believed to be caused by disorganized growth of retinal blood vessels.

“My parents were devastated at first,” says Wendy. “They worried how I would learn to walk, feed and dress myself; they feared how they would cope.”

Fortunately, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) got involved and counselled Wendy’s parents to let her be a normal child.

And with that advice, Wendy’s independent spirit began to soar.

“I had sighted friends, played with the neighbourhood kids, rode my bicycle and went to school,” she says.

School was difficult in the beginning when Wendy had to attend a specialized boarding school for the blind far from home. But, she blazed another new trail in the eighth grade when she became the first blind student admitted into Saskatchewan’s mainstream school system.

“I guess it was my job to be a first-timer in this life,” Wendy says with a laugh. “My hope is that I’ve made it easier for kids coming up in the system behind me.”

By the time high school came to an end, Wendy was fully literate in braille, excelling academically, and got accepted to the University of Saskatchewan to study psychology and social work.

“I’d feel totally illiterate without braille,” Wendy says reflecting on her education. “For me, it’s how I keep track of my life, how I got through school and to this day, it is my go-to preference for any kind of information.”

As Wendy’s career in social work progressed, she continued to tap into CNIB’s services to stay on top of changing adaptive technology.

In 1990, her lifelong connection to CNIB deepened when she accepted a job with the organization in Vancouver.

“I did it all,” explains Wendy. “Client service, fundraising, volunteer management – I was kept very busy in that role until my husband’s job moved us up to the Yukon.”

Whitehorse has been home since for Wendy and her husband, Seann.

“Northerners take care of our own,” says Wendy. “Helping each other is the way of life here – it’s very important for me to feel that I make a small difference in the life of every person I meet.”

So, when Wendy learned about CNIB Night Steps, a 5 km fundraising walk under the stars in Whitehorse on October 3rd, she leapt at the chance to form a team and raise funds for a cause close to her heart. 

“My motivation to walk is to give someone going through vision loss hope,” says Wendy. “Like all traumatic experiences, things always get better in time.”

It’s an outlook she developed with the help of her family.

“Hope is all my parents had – that we could make it together, that I could get an education, have a career and a successful life,” says Wendy. “And I have, it’s been a nice life.”

To help more families overcome the challenges associated with vision loss, register for CNIB Night Steps today at cnibnightsteps.ca

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