The road back to recovery and revival
In 2016, after suffering diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), a complication from diabetes that occurs when the body starts breaking down fat at a rapid rate, I lost my eyesight and became fully blind. It was very unexpected; my diabetes had never been unmanageable and up until that point, I enjoyed perfect eyesight, so to say I had some adjusting to do was an understatement.
After losing my sight, I stopped working to focus on learning to live without sight and to tap into new abilities. I had to adjust my day-to-day routine and relearn to do just about everything you could imagine: I couldn’t drive anymore, I had to adjust the way I cooked and even dressed myself. The hardest thing was learning to echo-locate using sound to navigate in unfamiliar environments, something that I still struggle with.
Later that same year, I was matched with representatives from the Canadian Institute for the Blind (CNIB), which included a mobility specialist who taught me to navigate my environment with the aid of a cane and a technology expert who taught me how to use computers and smart phones using software that allow blind people to interact with technology. Shortly after, I started to consider returning to work. I was listening to testimonials from other blind people using the Job Access with Speech (JAWS) program and realized there were other blind professionals out there that were successfully working. The testimonials featured many professionals who’s careers in some ways were like my own. Feeling inspired, I acquired JAWS and began teaching myself how to use it. Within a few months I could manipulate excel spreadsheets, send emails, setup meetings, and do internet searches. I knew I was on the right path and it was invigorating.
The possibility of returning to work turned into a definite - I was more than ready to return. With my renewed skill set I contacted my supervisor and told him my intentions. He was more than eager to hear about my new skill set and to talk about what I would need to make coming back to work happen. The transition back to work was challenging but with the support from my colleagues. Hatch purchased JAWS and I returned to work about one year ago.
Since returning to work, the response has been overwhelming. I have been received by my colleagues and clients warmly, as though nothing has change. If there’s one piece of advice I could give to others it’s to be patient when working with someone who may be returning from a traumatic incident or who may have a disability. We are trying hard to figure out a new way of operating and contributing in the workplace. If we work together and respect one another’s differences, we can create an inclusive future for all.
I’m hopeful about what the future has in store, not just for persons with disabilities but for all people. I see changes within our industry, with a growing focus on engineering and designing facilities that consider diversity in design. Facilities and projects that consider people of all abilities, and a future workforce that may look different than it does today.