Let”s “see”… Or rather not see. I don’t know where to “look” for a good introduction. Ok, enough with the blind jokes. Here’s a proper introduction. My name is Céline Kavanaugh, I am enrolled at a francophone high school in New Brunswick, and I have a visual impairment. I’ve never had perfect vision, but through the years, I lost complete sight in my left eye, leaving me with 20/200 vision in my right. This understandably comes with many difficulties and hurdles which makes my life a bit different from my peers. A driver’s license is out of the question. I also have a hard time finding a part-time job which accommodates my visual impairment. Reading cash registers, price tags, receipts – they are all very difficult for me to see. These difficulties didn’t stop me from becoming a SHAD fellow.
When I first heard of the program, I had my heart set on going. Obviously, when I told my parents about it, they were totally supportive about it, right? Well somewhat. The thought of letting their blind daughter leave for a month, alone, without knowing anyone made them a little fearful. For me, that was my favourite part about it. I thought, “Oh my gosh, I can leave on my own for a whole month!” In spite of it all, my parents agreed and let me apply. I viewed SHAD as a great opportunity to prove to my parents that I could be independent and that I was prepared for postsecondary studies.
At school, I have a camera attached to a screen which projects what's on the board. At SHAD, I had my phone and a little telescope. That was a big change for me. I liked it. This one change reassured me of my own preparedness.
I think what intrigued me the most about SHAD was the way they made learning so interactive, by also teaching us valuable skills, work ethics, STEAM (science, tech, engineering, arts, and math) and entrepreneurial related subjects you’d never see in high school. At SHAD, I was just like every other student. I used a soldering iron – one thing I never thought I’d ever be able to do with my visual impairment. The professor gave me a trick he thought might help, so I tried it and I was able to solder a circuit board. I also took apart a lawnmower and programmed a robot.
Most people at SHAD didn’t even notice my disability until the sun would set and I’d grab someone's arm to guide me, or I’d pull out my telescope in the lecture hall to see the board. I’m not ashamed of my disability; it’s my everyday. I adapt, and I live with it, end of story. If I need additional help, I’ll ask for it, but I rather do things myself beforehand. When I was at SHAD people didn’t question my capabilities; I just had a couple of obstacles others didn’t. SHAD introduced me to professionals and other students who had dreams as big as mine, dreams that suddenly seemed within reach. Environmental engineering and working out in the field has been a strong interest of mine, but before SHAD, I never thought of it as a realistic goal. I am now more confident I can find ways to adapt and go into any field of interest. Another passion of mine is Para-Nordic skiing. Obviously, I can't ski alone, or I’d hit a tree or something. But I have a guide who skis in front of me and instructs me of the terrain to come. I will be competing in my first world cup this winter.
On top of all that, at SHAD I made lifetime connections with people just like me. No matter our differences, or the distances between where we grew up, they are family. And if I could re-do my SHAD experience, I would wake up for those 7 a.m. recreation activities every morning, just to spend a little bit more time with my 55 other family members.
SHAD has a place for every student with a passion and the willingness to learn, no matter the challenges they face in their daily life. It is a place where people that are different have a chance to not only belong but to feel empowered by their differences. SHAD helped remind me that my disability brings no limit to my abilities. My way of doing things might be different than my peers but it doesn’t make it inferior. It makes me stand out from others.