I’ve never taken part in the Disability Blog Carnival, but after reading this round’s topic, I was inspired.
I lost my sight in the summer of 1993. I had just finished grade 8 and was excited to begin grade 9 at a new school. It was a total shock. My parents weren’t sure where to turn. I spent my summer indoors, trying to adapt to a life without 20/20 vision.
September arrived and students returned to school. My mom didn’t know what to do with me. She kept me home the first day, and called our region’s Board of Education. She talked to a woman in charge of organizing special services and was relieved to learn that there was a department of sorts designed to help visually impaired and blind students.
That afternoon, I met a woman who would forever change my life.
Stephanie Sommer arrived around noon. She sat with my mom and I, at the kitchen table and asked questions. She had come to assess whether I truly required her assistance. The phone rang at some point during our meeting and after watching me reach past the phone, she took my hand and placed it onto the receiver with a smile.
After mom was finished with the call, Stephanie told us she would start working with me the following day.
Over the next five years, Stephanie would teach me not only the usual lessons of Braille and getting around safely with a cane, but she would inspire me to be an independent woman.
Stephanie never once treated me like I had a disability.
She expected me to act appropriately and study just as hard as every other student in my high school.
She always expected me to give eye contact.
She wouldn’t help me unless I said please or thank you.
And if I got frustrated and attempted to give up, she’d walk away and wait for me to get over it.
Stephanie and I developed more than just a student-teacher bond, we became friends. She told me about her own vision problems and told me how she embarked on an educational journey that led her to working with students like me.
I remember the feeling of comfort that would come over me each time I smelled her perfume, and the smile that would sprout on my face, no matter how bad the day, when I heard her voice. Stephanie was my navigator, guiding me through a world I now found scary and full of unknowns.
She taught me how to read Braille and how to fully utilize the vision I still had.
She showed me how to travel safely throughout my community with a cane, and then when I told her I wanted to apply for a guide dog, she challenged me to first move outside of my comfort zone. I learned how to take the bus to a neighbouring town to attend movies and shop alone in their mall. Then, she gave me the biggest test of all, she asked me to learn how to take the bus to Toronto and then learn to take the subway to the largest mall of all (at the time) – the Eatons Centre.
Once I entered my final year of high school, Stephanie was there to help me reach my goal of attending university. She read through university brochures and program descriptions. Then she helped me fill out application, after application because I couldn’t decide on which one to attend. She was there when I received each of my letters of acceptance and then took it upon herself to arrange campus tours so that I could better decide upon the school for me.
After I began university, Stephanie and I talked a couple times a year, but after she attended my wedding in 2006, we sadly lost touch.
I still think about the lessons she taught me. She inspired me how to be the woman I am today, because when no one else did, she believed I could be better.