Changing her trajectory
How the University of Waterloo's Centre for Sight Enhancement broke down barriers to help Lindsay realize her potential
When Lindsay was little girl, she says many medical professionals told her that she should expect to live her life with many limitations.
“I grew up having low vision from birth,” says Lindsay. “I was determined to be legally blind, so that hampered my ability to read, drive or do lots of other normal things with my family and friends.”
Diagnosed with congenital bilateral coloboma, a condition where normal tissues in and around the eye do not develop in the womb, Lindsay spent many hours in ophthalmologists’ offices across Southern Ontario. Repeatedly, Lindsay heard that there was not much they could do to enhance her vision.
“For most of my life, I had very little support. I didn’t have access to practitioners with expertise in low vision,” said Lindsay, now 58-years-old. “I never really had the chance to talk to someone who really understood the challenges I was facing as a person with low vision.”
Reimagining her path
When Lindsay discovered the University of Waterloo’s Centre for Sight Enhancement in her late twenties, she was at a significant crossroads in her life. Working in the field of early childhood education, her visual impairments were becoming too debilitating to ignore. It was becoming increasingly harder for her to gain full-time employment.
“I had six years of education under my belt and had only been working in the field for about nine years. People were telling me that they felt it wasn’t safe for me to be working in this environment,” said Lindsay.
The reality of being unable to continue the career she loved was devastating. “It was a huge loss for me. It was hard to process that this career I had trained so hard for would not be something I could do for the rest of my life,” said Lindsay.
It wasn’t until Lindsay met her low vision counsellor at the University of Waterloo that it became clear that her visual limitations didn’t have to stop her from pursuing what she wanted to achieve.
“There are a lot of people who are legally blind that can’t work, so I believed that I would have to accept that – I would have to survive off disability,” said Lindsay. “My counsellor really helped me understand that it wasn’t game over. I could still have a work life. She suggested I consider going back to school to pursue Social Work, since I already had a degree and really enjoy working with people.”
Lindsay’s counselor referred her for a low vision assessment to ensure she had the glasses and aids she needed to be successful in the classroom. With newfound confidence, Lindsay went back to school and achieved a Master’s degree in social work at the age of thirty-four.
She quickly found a position post-graduation, and recently celebrated her retirement after building a fulfilling twenty-one-year career in the field.
Maximizing her vision
To ensure she could be successful in the workplace, Lindsay has worked with the clinic’s former director Dr. Ann Plotkin, and now Dr. Tammy Labreche, to amass a total of ten different eyeglasses - each engineered to assist with different tasks, like typing, reading or completing paperwork.
“In my 58 years, the low vision clinic is the only place I’ve been able to go and have custom glasses made for my condition,” said Lindsay. “Before I had these devices, I just assumed it was impossible for me to be able to accomplish these tasks. During a regular workday, I’d be wearing three or four different pairs to get me through the day.”
Lindsay credits clinic staff for their patience and perseverance in helping her find the right assistive devices for her condition. “It probably took eight years to figure out [the devices I needed]. They really didn’t give up. They really took the time to explore and didn’t leave me with a ‘one size fits all’ answer.
When Lindsay encountered a further decline in her left eye and began to consider retirement, Lindsay once again picked up the phone to book an appointment with her low vision counselor to discuss her options.
“Over the past thirty years, I’ve worked with three different counselors at the low vision clinic, and all have helped me tremendously throughout difficult periods of my life, including my decision to retire,” said Lindsay. “It’s been amazing for me to be able to have such expertise right here in my backyard. The clinic’s optometrists are so patient with me, and they take the time to help me solve the problem I’m having.”
Reflecting on her journey
With a desire to stay involved in her community post-retirement, Lindsay actively volunteers with a few local organizations in Waterloo and takes online university courses. She continues to rely on the services of the Centre for Sight Enhancement to help her adapt to her ever-evolving vision needs.
Reflecting on her life today, Lindsay is sure that without the low vision clinic, things would have turned out very differently.
“Without these services, I never would have made it to where I am today. I don’t think I would have done two degrees or have been able to pursue two professions. I don’t think I would be as well-rounded as a person as I am today.”
“It is not an exaggeration to say that the University of Waterloo’s Centre for Sight Enhancement has changed the course of my entire life.”