I didn’t see the motorcycle coming at me until it was too late.
I always enjoyed getting up early and taking walks just before the sun rises. Being out in the fresh air before the city woke up gave me the chance to clear my head.
I remember that morning almost nine years ago, as I set out on my usual route which brought me to an intersection that I probably crossed a hundred times before. As I made my way across the crosswalk, I recall hearing the horn of the motorcycle just before it struck me. I blacked out for a few moments, and came to my senses in a puddle of blood next to the road, bruised and in pain. Someone called an ambulance and I was whisked away to the closest hospital.
It was this incident that awakened me to the realization that I needed to seek help for my visual impairment.
I’m sharing my story with you because the compassionate support you’ve shown in the past for the MAB- Mackay changed my life.
My parents first noticed I was having trouble seeing when I was about five or six years old. Reading books, seeing the blackboard at school, playing ball in the park with my friends, or playing video games on the television at home slowly became more difficult for me.
I was soon diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, which means that the light cells in my eyes were gradually dying off. Growing up, it was scary knowing that one day I would stop seeing altogether. As a young boy, it was hard to accept that my friends would surpass me in school and in sports. I often felt left out and frustrated.
The way I see today is mainly through my peripheral vision, which is very blurry. My central vision is completely gone. So whenever I look at something, I only see the edges. If it’s too sunny or too dark, it gets even harder for me to see.
This condition shaped my likes, dislikes and my hobbies in life. I’ve become more comfortable in nature, doing things on my own rather than in groups, where I often feel self-conscious. Participating in team sports has always been a passion of mine, which I’ve had to give up. But my biggest fear is that my limited vision will get even worse. As a result, I’ll lose my independence and need to rely more on the help of others.
Through all of this, my wife has been an extraordinary source of support. She’s been by my side since we first met while studying business management together in university more than ten years ago. We quickly became best friends, and despite the difficulties I was facing due to my vision loss, she recognized potential in me that I couldn’t see myself. She’s done so much for me over the years, and we’ve adapted together as my sight has deteriorated. In fact, when we’re together it’s hard to tell that I can’t see because of the way we understand each other.
I’ve been fortunate that I’ve had a lot of assistance from my family and friends, but it’s no substitute for doing it myself. It’s very discouraging that it takes me a long time to do routine tasks. This is because I have to explore with my hands to find things that everyone else can see instantly. It’s also embarrassing to rely on others to read my personal mail for me, that I have to share my private information this way.
The MAB-Mackay changed all of this. They helped me to take control and achieve a level of autonomy I didn’t even know was possible given my visual impairment.
My first visit to the MAB-Mackay left a lasting impression on me. It was the first time I saw a blind person use a computer – I never even imagined this could be possible! I was mesmerized when I saw someone walking by with a guide dog. That was the moment when I knew I was at the right place, hopeful that these were the people who could help me.
It’s almost a year now since I began my therapy at the MAB-Mackay. From the very start, I felt that I was in good hands. Everyone I met seemed to understand the challenges I’d been facing. This was an incredible relief, as it’s very difficult for others to identify with the trials and anxieties that are part of life with my limited vision.
I quickly discovered the many areas in which the MAB-Mackay was able to help me become independent.
As one of my goals was to walk on my own, we started with “Orientation and Mobility” training. The neighborhood around my home, which I once knew so well, had become unfamiliar and intimidating since I lost my vision. My instructor Kate helped me to overcome my apprehensions by showing me how to use a white cane. You can imagine how scary it was for me, out on the streets with nobody guiding me, only my white cane which I held out in front of me. If I made a mistake, the consequences would be much worse than for a sighted person.
The sound and feeling of the white cane on different surfaces of the ground gave me a better knowledge of my environment, and I began to feel more confident. We then explored further, working on techniques to cross roads and intersections. This was the first time since I was hit by the motorcycle years before that I trusted myself to cross the street alone. Soon after, we started training in different parts of the city and using public transportation so I could get accustomed to independent travel. Kate also showed my wife the proper guidance techniques so she could help me in crowds, or in other situations like when we go camping.
I’m now able to freely go for walks around my neighborhood, to visit my cousins at their home, or go to appointments on my own – a freedom that gives me so much pride. This skill felt so liberating, like going from crawling to walking. My future plans include more independent travel and getting a guide dog, which I’m really looking forward to!
Natalie, another specialist from the MAB-Mackay, visited me at home and showed me important tips and techniques on independent living. This was key to giving me the ability to doing many of the everyday things that sighted people take for granted. For example, she put tactile markings on the thermostat so I could control it when my wife is out at work, and on the stove so I can heat up food safely for myself without worrying it would be undercooked. I learned how to prepare my own coffee and pour it into a mug without spilling and burning myself, as well as to slice fruit without worrying about cutting myself.
I admit that before coming to the MAB-Mackay, I couldn’t use a computer at all – I couldn’t even log on without help. But with the guidance of my instructor Dany (who is blind himself), I’m happy to say that I’ve become a pro! I learned a variety of popular software, as well as many apps on my smartphone, which have helped me to become more organized and efficient. Finally, I worked with an employment counselor who was instrumental in preparing me to get my first job. This is an important step for me, as I’m eager to gain experience and qualifications, as well as being able to contribute to our household income.
This journey wasn’t always easy. In the more difficult times, when the emotional toll of living with my visual impairment was particularly distressing, my social worker Jennifer helped put things into perspective for me. She listened to my personal problems and concerns, helped me deal with them realistically and practically, and gave me hope to carry on.
I’ve learned so much at the MAB-Mackay – they’ve given me the skills, dignity and confidence to be a proud, productive member of society. I no longer feel like I’m a burden to my family and society. They showed me that anything is possible, even with my vision loss.
Then the pandemic hit. Almost overnight, we were all plunged into a strange, new reality.
The effects of the COVID-19 crisis have been particularly hard for me. I remained home most of the time during the confinement. Even as society opened its doors again, I had to limit my activities. I can no longer accompany my wife to go food shopping, since touching things with my hands is my primary way to for me to “see” what I’m holding. Staying home certainly made me feel more vulnerable. I was also looking forward to using many of the skills I had learned, and it’s been frustrating having to go back to depending so much on others again.
Throughout this period, I continued to receive support from the MAB-Mackay. They called to check up on me regularly to make sure I was safe and to offer me tips to cope. Luckily, I was able to continue my computer training with Dany, as he connected remotely to my station at home. I truly felt cared for during this uncertain period. It’s reassuring to know that the team from the MAB-Mackay truly takes my best interests to heart.