Ray Smith Profile

Ray Smith's life changed forever during a routine shift in 1986, when he was blinded in a workplace accident. Smith, then 32, was lifting a bag of garbage when a splinter of wood pierced his right eye. Already blind in his left eye from a congenital eye condition, the accident left Smith almost completely without vision.

As a child with partial vision loss, Smith recalls 'wanting to be like every other kid,' he says. With help from CNIB he was able to do just that, attending regular schools and embarking on a career along with his fully-sighted peers.

Accident 'changed everything'

But after his accident, Smith felt his dreams crumble. 'One second changed everything,' he says. 'An accident has a ripple effect - it changes not only you, but your family and your friends.'

Smith filed a claim with the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), which provides assistance for workers injured on the job.

'I was very angry and bitter, and felt a lot of 'why me''? Smith says wryly. 'But my adjudicator gave me a kick and insisted that I get retrained almost immediately to get on with my life,' he recalls.

CNIB provided a boost

Smith registered in the Automated Office Procedures course through George Brown College, which was offered at CNIB's Toronto office. There, he underwent orientation and mobility training and learned how to travel safely and independently using a white cane. Smith also learned how to use accessible computer technology and took some life-skills coaching to regain his confidence.

In 1990, he landed a job at a major insurance company. There, he became an ambassador of sorts, encouraging the company to hire other workers with a disability.

Job-seekers must sell selves, abilities

'Many employers don't know how easy it can be to hire someone with a disability and make their workplace accessible,' says Smith. 'Job-seekers have to be proactive, selling themselves as well as their assistive devices to the employer. You have to be a salesperson.'

After nearly 13 years with that company, however, Smith was ready for a change, and decided to approach WSIB again, this time in a different capacity. Impressed with Smith's experience, enthusiasm and initiative, WSIB offered him a job as a 'safety Ambassador,' which has now expanded into a full-time position.

Positive attitude is key

Smith speaks mostly to job-seekers with disabilities, sharing his own story, talking about accident and injury prevention, and providing coaching and mentoring through workshops and training sessions.

His main message? A positive attitude is paramount, says Smith, as well as being open to learning from coaches, mentors and peers. He also insists that job-seekers, especially those with a disability, learn to market themselves: 'show people what you can do for them,' says Smith, 'not what they can do for you.'

And finally, he advises workers, with and without a disability, to be their own best advocates in terms of their health, safety and well-being.

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From time to time, we reach out to Canadians for donations to ensure that CNIB is on hand for individuals who are searching for the services and support necessary to enjoy a good quality of life while living with vision loss. Please give generously.