Parents of children with special needs often wonder what it will be like for their child growing up. Arshina Martin plans to write an ongoing series chronicling her experiences growing up as a blind woman.
You might be wondering: Who is Arshina? I am a 30 year old woman, I am a wife. I am a daughter, a sister and an aunt. I am a friend. I am a social worker. I am a proud pet parent. I grew up in Toronto with my parents and two older brothers. After high school, I got my first service dog (an experience I hope to share with you in an upcoming post). I moved to Ottawa to attend Carleton University where I completed a B.A. in Criminology and a Masters in Social Work. My then-boyfriend (now husband) and I moved to Halifax and later to Kingston where he attended graduate school; a journey I took with him, just as he had supported me throughout my academic career. In Kingston, I worked as a trauma counsellor with the Sexual Assault Centre, made an honest man out of my boyfriend, we got married in August 2016, and then returned to Ottawa in October 2016 to accept a full-time position as the Manager of Adult and Youth Services at the Elizabeth Fry Society.
Oh yeah, I am also completely blind. I lost vision in my left eye at the age of two after undergoing 10 operations in an attempt to repair my detached retina. In the fourth grade, I developed a cataract in my right eye and had the option of having yet another operation where I had a 1 per cent risk of experiencing another retinal detachment. At the ripe old age of nine, I made the difficult decision to hold off on the surgery, as I was not quite prepared to risk the vision I had. Over the next six years, I adjusted to my deteriorating vision. I learned to read Braille, took courses in the operation of screen-reading computer software, and received training in Orientation and Mobility (O&M). O&M is where I learned how to use a white cane. At the beginning it felt like this tool was designed solely to embarrass me and thwart any chance I had to make friends. However, I quickly realized my cane helped me safely and independently travel about town. At the age of 15, I finally made the choice to have surgery, figuring that given the extensive deterioration of my vision, I had very little to lose. After three operations, a year with near-perfect vision, three additional operations, two laser interventions, a series of complications, and another year holding on to hope that my sight would be restored, I ultimately lost my vision entirely in 2003.
You are probably wondering: why? Who is she? And why would I want to read what she has to say? Honestly, at first, I thought the same thing! Shortly after being invited to contribute however, I began having flashbacks. I started to remember all the people who, over the years, have told me that I should, one day, write a book, and I began thinking, well maybe I do have something to say. Maybe people will care to hear my story. Maybe I can help make a difference in the lives of individuals and families affected by disability?
I remember meeting with the mom parent of a five-year-old boy who had recently been diagnosed with a deteriorating eye condition. With tears in her eyes, she told me how it was her fault; how her son would have been healthy if she was a better person in a different life, how her son had no hope and she had no power to change his prospects for the future. I pointed out a certain irony. On the one hand, she believed herself powerful enough to cause his blindness, but on the other, she felt entirely powerless to help him cope with it. I reminded her that a parent’s ability to shape and influence her child’s future can work in many directions: you can discourage or encourage, you can embrace or disown, and you can love or pity. I hope that by sharing my stories and experiences, I can remind parents of children affected by disability, that with support, hope, strength, courage and faith, they can influence the future of their child. We can lead happy, productive and fulfilled lives.
I look forward to setting out on this journey with you and hope you will tune in again next month when I share the next instalment of my series.