Blind World Magazine

From shame to accomplishment.

February 08, 2006.
Coquitlam Tri City News - Coquitlam,British Columbia,Canada.

Many a mom has warned her kids that she’s watching from the corner of her eye. But for Elaine Harris, it was literally true because that’s the only vision she has.

Legally blind, she raised five children with help only from her husband, and now leads the White Cane Chapter at Dogwood Pavilion.

“I’ve never known anything different,” she said. “I had no idea how little I could see until I was in my teens.”

She could make out a large green blur so assumed it was the same tree everyone else was seeing, unaware of the detail available to someone with complete sight.

“I was ashamed of not being able to see and tried to cover it up,” Harris said.

School was hard as her limited vision made more work for teachers, and employment was also hard to get, although she was a trained stenographer. But Harris, Saskatchewan-raised and prairie pragmatic, hasn’t let limited vision get in her way.

“I rode my bicycle all over Saskatoon and never had an accident,” she said. Her sister, on the other hand, had perfect sight and managed to get her cycle wheels caught in the tram tracks – “and she went flying.”

In 1984, Harris volunteered to start a group in Tri-City for people with limited vision and, in the past 22 years, membership has ranged from a dozen to 25. “It is about being with people with the same problem as you have,” she said. Members share tips about circumventing hazards in the community and press for safety devices, such as chirping pedestrian signals. They like braille translations in public places and voiced information, such as elevator floors. “It would help a lot of people,” she said.

Most of the clients using services offered by the Canadian National Institute for the Blind are age 65 or older because most vision loss is connected to aging. Age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss, which, according to the Canadian Council of the Blind, affects 2.1 million people between ages 43 and 75. This number is expected to triple during the next 25 years.

Today’s vision-impaired are, then, leading the way for the boomer generation. White Cane week is observed in Canada from February 5 to 12 to recognize how the iconic cane is a symbol of freedom and how its users express their ability, not their limitations.

Harris doesn’t bemoan her fate. “I think everybody has a problem from time to time,” she said. “I’ve always had this one and never really thought of it as being a really big handicap. This is the way it is.”

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