Since she started losing her eyesight in her early 30s, Burnaby resident Nancy Gill has tried to hide her disability.
For the past two decades, she has struggled with her slowly deteriorating sight, ignoring the signs like not being able to read her son's report card, walking into tree branches while on the sidewalk, and even being hit by a car five years ago.
"I thought, what am I doing, I should be using my cane, but I didn't want Superstore to know that I'm blind," she said.
It wasn't until she lost her job as a grocery bagger that Gill decided something had to change.
In the last year, she says she's felt at a loss for how to connect with others, especially members of the visually impaired community, but now she's taking matters into her own hands to help herself and others.
After applying recently for a grant from the South Burnaby Neighbourhood House, Gill was given $500, which she is using to organize a social event in September for local blind and visually impaired residents.
"I can't live in the house for the rest of my life," she said. "Reaching out to other people and seeing how they run their lives, maybe it'll give me courage to do the same thing."
Burnaby Blind Connections will feature guest speakers from the City of Burnaby,
who will offer information about resources for those with vision loss, as well as a speaker from the Canadian Federation of the Blind who will offer a "braille is beautiful" demonstration, and a local librarian who will talk about accessing audiotapes.
A Home Depot representative will also be there to lead a birdhouse-building workshop.
Guests can also enjoy refreshments and door prizes and will have a chance to network and socialize.
In B.C., there are 135,000 people living with blindness or vision loss, according to the Canadian National Institute for the Blind.
There are a variety of causes of visual impairment in Canada - the most common being age-related macular degeneration - as well as less common causes like diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, cataracts and refractive error.
Gill's case is even less common. She has Usher syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that leads to both hearing and vision loss, which has also affected her sister and uncle. While she wears hearing aids that allow her to carry on a conversation, her worsening eyesight has caused her to become more isolated over the years.
"My fear is, where am I going to go tomorrow with this?" she said.
Today, Gill has no vision in her left eye and only a small central spot of vision in her right. She doesn't have a guide dog, though she says she'd like one, but first needs to learn to properly rely on her cane, which she only started using recently.
With her eyesight still deteriorating, she says she is concerned about the day when she will no longer be able to cook.
"I really do love cooking," she says. Whatever the future might hold, however, Gill says she is hopeful about meeting others in the community and helping those with visual impairment to access the resources they need.
"I feel like maybe it's time for us to open our eyes and realize what's out there for us," she said.
Gill says she's excited about the lineup of speakers at the event next month, and she's hoping to get a musician or band to offer some musical entertainment as well.
"I want this to be a fun night," she said, noting she anticipates welcoming up to 100 people, including volunteers.
The Burnaby Blind Connections event will be held Friday, Sept. 6 from 6 to 8 p.m. at Maywood Community School gym, at 4567 Imperial St. Admission is free. For more, contact Nancy Gill at 604-431-5095 or email burnabyblind firstname.lastname@example.org before Aug. 26.
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