Memorial University student breaks down barriers to see beyond vision loss

12/3/2015

 St John’s, N.L. - Originally from Lewisporte, Brandon grew up with a genetic eye disorder called ocular albinism and nystagmus. Growing up in a small town with a supportive family meant he was able to take advantage of opportunities and never felt excluded because of his vision loss. 

“I always did everything other children would do. The only real challenge I remember was at night when I would go outside I had difficulty seeing puddles of water, so often I would come home with wet feet. In my mind it was better to have wet feet than miss out on having fun with my friends,” says Snow. 

For many young blind or partially sighted students, growing up in a small town surrounded by a supportive network of people can instill a strong sense of confidence. After graduating high school Brandon felt he was ready to take the next step. With his confidence in tact he moved to St John’s to attend Memorial University. Brandon says “I did not have a care in the world and I certainly didn’t see myself as being disabled.” 

It was at this point in his life when his perspectives and understanding of his own vision changed drastically. “When my brand new computer crashed in my first semester, I was frantic. I call the technology specialist at CNIB and he came to my residence to fix the computer and offer reassurance.” 

Snow also said, “This is when I realized I should have been participating in the CNIB post-secondary support group for students with vision loss. It’s a group of students who share their post-secondary experiences and ways in which they overcame challenges.” 

CNIB’s Career & Employment/Assistive Technology Specialist, Jason Rose explains; “accessible and inclusive environments are the key to success for a student living with vision loss, so CNIB offers a post-secondary youth orientation program for high school students transitioning to a post-secondary education. This program allows students from all over the province spend a week of orientation at our local university and college campuses, travelling around the city, accessing public transportation, hospitals etc. These are skills that make that transition more manageable, especially for students who have grown up in rural areas, like Brandon.” 

Brandon adds “unfortunately because of my over confidence at the time, I chose not to participate in the programs. In hindsight I now know I would have been a much easier transition had I attended the orientation program. I am glad I made that call to Jason, it certainly changed the outcome of my university experiences” 

“During my time at MUN both CNIB and the Blunden Centre have been there when I needed them. For example; one of my challenges is my ability to read the printed work. For a student like me with vison challenges, the Blunden Centre deals directly with publishers so that I could have electronic copies of the books I needed, which made the process quicker. Before the semester started I was given a tour of the Science Centre laboratories so that I could orient myself prior to starting the lab components of my courses. That helped me identify and manage obstacles ahead of classes. In working with the Technology Specialist at CNIB I also learned about the many assistive technologies that allow me to function normally in a challenging environment.” 

When we asked Brandon what advice he could offer students like himself he said; “if you are blind or partially sighted and living in rural Newfoundland and Labrador, a post-secondary education in a larger centre is doable as long as you never let your disability prevent you from reaching your dream. Take every opportunity that is presented to you and while it’s great to be confident, asking for help can ensure you are prepared and help you avoid being disappointed. It’s normal for any student to question their abilities while attending university. For a student who is blind or partially sighted, you can never allow those momentary doubts overpower your dreams and ambitions. 

Organizations like CNIB and the Blunden Centre are there to help you avoid the barriers and make that transition much easier. Self-advocacy is important in that process.”

About CNIB

CNIB is a registered charity, passionately providing community-based support, knowledge and a national voice to ensure Canadians who are blind or partially sighted have the confidence, skills and opportunities to fully participate in life. To learn more, visit cnib.ca or call the toll-free CNIB Helpline at 1-800-563-2642 

About International Day of Persons with Disabilities

The annual observance of the International Day of Disabled Persons was proclaimed in 1992, by the United Nations General Assembly resolution 47/3. The observance of the Day aims to promote an understanding of disability issues and mobilize support for the dignity, rights and well-being of persons with disabilities. It also seeks to increase awareness of gains to be derived from the integration of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life. 

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