Gina Huylenbroeck says the best way people who can see can help people with vision loss is by asking if they need help first. Secondly, they should ask how they can help. (Aaron Guillen/News Staff)

Gina Huylenbroeck says the best way people who can see can help people with vision loss is by asking if they need help first. Secondly, they should ask how they can help. (Aaron Guillen/News Staff)

How one Victoria woman with vision loss overcomes pandemic obstacles

No full-time training program available for Canadians with blindness

When a barista waves at Gina Huylenbroeck to step up and make an order, she doesn’t react.

As a person with low vision, she’s unaware an interaction even took place. When a voice says, “next” – that’s her cue.

“[People who are blind] have had to learn how to adapt to a world that favours those who are visually capable,” said Huylenbroeck, a peer support coordinator at Victoria Disability Resource Centre.

“We need to touch, feel and sense things to understand what they are. I like to think that it’s our way of seeing differently.”

The Victoria woman says the lack of social interaction during the pandemic has made it tougher for people who are blind to feel confident day-to-day. Something as simple as getting to a coffee shop can be a challenge.

Not only does she have to navigate the hustle and bustle of a busy sidewalk, but face coverings can inhibit her sense of smell, which helps her determine whether she passed a target landmark, such as a restaurant or bakery.

Once she arrives, she’s not sure whether to enter as each storefront has a different maximum amount of people allowed inside at one time. At the counter, it’s hard to tell where a voice is coming from with the sound dispersed through Plexiglas. With every exit-only door she walks out of, she takes a moment to gather her bearings.

But Gina is prepared for whatever obstacle life may throw at her.

READ MORE: ‘Guide dogs don’t know how to social distance’: Victoria woman asks for patience

The 46-year-old was diagnosed with progressive cone dystrophy at 19, which meant her central vision would gradually deteriorate while her peripheral vision would also worsen. In 2016, she decided to attend a full-time training centre for the blind in Louisiana, USA.

After nine months of intensive training, she returned to Victoria with a renewed sense of independence.

“I was worried for a long time about the stigma around cane usage,” Huylenbroeck said. “I can’t see someone’s face for their reaction so it doesn’t matter what they think. I’m able to enjoy more things in life with the help of my cane.”

That freedom isn’t something every person with blindness enjoys.

In Canada, there are no full-time training programs available for people with blindness. Huylenbroeck used a grant and funds from a GoFundMe to travel and pay for her training.

ALSO READ: Victoria installation for the blind causes problems for those with mobility issues

“You can’t just learn how to be confident overnight,” said Elizabeth Lalonde, executive director at Pacific Training Centre for the Blind. She has the same condition as Huylenbroeck and completed the same training in 2010.

She oversees Blind People in Charge, a part-time program in Victoria teaching skills for people with blindness to be self-reliant since 2014.

The program provides non-visual training such as understanding Braille, cooking and cleaning, travelling with a cane and using phones and laptops. It can be tailored to the individual based on what they’re looking for and how much time they can commit.

“We provide these free of charge because we believe it’s a basic right,” Lalonde said. “It’s been especially tough during the pandemic because we can’t meet in person as much and most training is very hands-on.”

Due to the pandemic, most instructors reach out to their students over Zoom or phone call. Tactile-skills such as cooking or learning how to cross a street can’t be easily taught without a guiding hand.

In September, the centre opened again to limited in-person meetings.

“I dream of the day when we can have an actual residential program where people have the option to leave their regular lives for six to nine months,” Lalonde said.

“With that investment in training, they can become much more independent. But right now it’s really lacking in Canada.”

READ MORE: Hearing begins into blind community’s complaint against BC Transit, City of Victoria


 

Do you have a story tip? Email: vnc.editorial@blackpress.ca.

Follow us on Twitter and Instagram, and like us on Facebook.

aaron.guillen@goldstreamgazette.com

City of VictoriaDisability

Just Posted

The orange parcel was bought by the CRD for $1.1 million to add to Mount Work Regional Park. (CRD map)
Capital Regional District expands Mount Work land for $1.1 million

Privately-owned 13.8 hectares in the Highlands is ecologcically valuable

North Saanich has received a report from the Urban Development Institute calling on the municipality to expand and densify its housing options in the face of demographic and environmental changes as the municipality continues its Official Community Plan review. (Black Press Media file photo)
North Saanich asked to create more affordable, diverse housing

Urban Development Institute says community faces demographic, environmental challenges

One woman has been arrested in connection with a drug trafficking investigation. (Black Press Media file photo)
Victoria woman arrested, car and drugs seized during trafficking investigation

Multiple units combine forces for investigation, arrest

Royal Bay Secondary School’s rainbow crosswalk was vandalized shortly after being painted but by Monday, coincidentally the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, the crosswalk had been cleaned up and students had surrounded it with chalk messages of support and celebration. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
Royal Bay pride crosswalk restored following graffiti attack

Hate terms, racial slur, phallic images spray-painted at Colwood high school

Vancouver Canucks’ Jake Virtanen (18) and Calgary Flames’ Josh Leivo, front right, vie for the puck as goalie Jacob Markstrom, back left, watches during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Vancouver, on Saturday, February 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver Canucks forward Jake Virtanen sued over alleged sexual assault

Statement of claim says the woman, identified only by her initials, suffered physical and emotional damages

An avalanche near Highway 1 in Glacier National Park. Avalanche Canada will benefit from a $10 million grant from the B.C. government. (Photo by Parks Canada)
Avalanche Canada receives $10-million grant from B.C. government

Long sought-after funds to bolster organization’s important work

More “strings of lights” were seen on May 15, 2021, in night sky over Vancouver Island. (File photo)
Sicamous RCMP Sgt. Murray McNeil and Cpl. Wade Fisher present seven-year-old Cody Krabbendam of Ranchero with an award for bravery on July 22, 2020. (Contributed)
7-year old Shuswap boy receives medal of bravery for rescuing child at beach

Last summer Cody Krabbendam jumped into the lake to save another boy from drowning

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry update the province’s COVID-19 vaccine program, May 10, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate stays below 500 a day over weekend

14 more deaths, down to 350 in hospital as of Monday

Royal Bay Secondary School’s rainbow crosswalk was vandalized shortly after being painted but by Monday, coincidentally the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, the crosswalk had been cleaned up and students had surrounded it with chalk messages of support and celebration. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
B.C. high’s school’s pride crosswalk restored following ‘hateful’ graffiti attack

Hate terms, racial slur, phallic images spray-painted at Greater Victoria high school

Terrance Mack would have celebrated his 34th birthday on May 13, 2021. Mack’s family has identified him as the victim of a homicide in an apartment on Third Avenue in Port Alberni sometime in April. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)
Family identifies Ucluelet man as victim of Vancouver Island homicide

Terrance Mack being remembered as ‘kind, gentle’ man

Nathan Zuk had left his mother’s residence in Whaletown on Cortes Island in mid-December 2020 in a 14’ skiff rowboat and headed to an unknown location near the Pryce Channel, Deer passage, or Toba Inlet. Photo courtesy RCMP
RCMP need help finding man who set off from Cortes Island in 14-foot rowboat

Nathan Zuk left in December, may have been last seen in Toba Inlet approximately three weeks ago

Emergency service workers at the collision scene along Highway 4 in Hilliers on Sunday, May 16. A motorcyclist was airlifted to hospital by BC Air Ambulance and later died. (Collin C photo)
UPDATE: Motorcyclist dies from injuries sustained in Mid-Island highway collision

BC Highway Patrol says impairment not a contributing factor in crash

An avalanche near Highway 1 in Glacier National Park. Avalanche Canada will benefit from a $10 million grant from the B.C. government. (Photo by Parks Canada)
Avalanche Canada receives $10-million grant from B.C. government

Long sought-after funds to bolster organization’s important work

Most Read