≡ Menu

Who is Jen Ferris

You’ve probably read a few pages of this site. And maybe you you’ve browsed through a couple of blog posts. And by now, I bet you are probably wondering just “who is Jen Ferris?” and “why should I trust anything she says?”

… I get it.

Well, I’ll tell you my story. It’s not glamourous nor amazing, not even extraordinary, really. But it is unique. And perhaps, the outcome is the result of a miracle, a little love, a little determination, a dose of guidance, some support, a lot of hard work, a ton of faith and a few graces by God.

But it is my life and I intend to make the latter portion more outstanding than the beginning. It is my hope and dream to have you play a role in the next stages of my life story. Together, I believe, our partnership will impact on our lives and influence our future journey for the better. Our interactions with each other will help both of us to write our own future story chapters we can be proud of.

So, if you’re ready. Let’s dive in, shall we?

In The Beginning

I was born as Thangamoni in a small village in the southern state of Tamil Nadu India, several days walk away from the major city of Coimbatore which is located in the south western region of the state.

I cannot tell you exactly, the name of the village where I was born. Nor can I even tell you the exact year, month or day of my birth. I don’t know whether I was born in a hospital, a roadside clinic or a village hut. I don’t even know how I came by this name. I don’t know if it was my birth name or a name given to me later on. I cannot even tell you if this is even the correct spelling of the name.

You see, I was abandoned early in my preschool years. In fact, the only truth I have of being born in India are a few disjointed memories and the tellings of the adults in my life. Some of my very first childhood memories take place in a tiny village in India, however.

I remember my first house as being very small, made of tightly woven straw hut walls bound together by twine and bamboo poles. I remember a hardly packed dirt floor with a woven straw matt and a thin cotton blanket as my bed. And I remember noises! … Constant sounds of, what must have been, village movements, daily activities, ongoing life chores and people chatter.

I remember being alone and allowed to explore and discover my surroundings. I crawled on my hands and knees on the earthen floor and found many cracks, nooks and crannies. I scaled the walls with my hands to explore what I could not see and found small gaps between the straw walls and bamboo poles. I remember climbing on stools, crates, tables, shelves and heaps of piled things just to discover what things make this sound or that noise or to follow the scent of odours to learn of things. I remember running amongst a crowd of children. And other times I was with a mixture of children and adults. Nothing stands out as being unique or distinctive of this time. In fact, it all seem so nondescript and ordinary. Just another day in a blind child’s life in a small remote village in southern India.

Farewell, Child

There is one moment in that time where a memory stands out as distinct. My mother is standing at the edge of the village holding me in her arms and crying. My aunt gently lifts me from my mother’s arms and places me firmly on the ground. She takes my hand and together we walk along the dusty road going away from the village. We walk and walk. I don’t know how long we walk, but the next memory is of my aunt and I climbing the steep steps of a hot crowded bus. Again, I don’t remember the bus ride. My next memory flash is of my aunt and I walking along another quiet road. I feel the warm sun on me and a breeze blowing softly on my skin. I don’t recall being constrained to my aunt’s side by a firm hand over my own. No, instead I am running freely, sometimes running along side her or even running ahead of her. I recall we would step into the ditches just beside the road to relieve ourselves from time to time. Then we would walk and walk some more. Maybe it was minutes. Maybe days. I don’t know.

Finally, the road we have been walking along comes to a T-intersection in which a road, going from right to left, crosses in front of us. At the right-hand corner is a bench and behind that bench is a schoolhouse. Across the road from the bench is a police station. My aunt instructs me to sit on the bench and wait for her. She explains, she has to toilet and will be right back. She turns and walks back down the road on which we just came.

So, I wait. I’ve been waiting so long that I get bored. I explore the bench and the surrounding area. I count the number of long bords making up the bench. I count the number of screws holding the bench together. I count how many hands wide the bench is. I do tricks like walking the length of the bench seat and daring myself to not fall off. I walk the bench length enough times to master this balancing trick. My bordom propels me to explore the area around the bench. I notice there are small rocks on the ground and tall grass growing beside and behind the bench. A few steps away, behind the bench, I can hear the children in the schoolhouse. I listen to the children’s laughter and chatter. It seems to me, it’s the first time I heard the song “Mary Had A Little Lamb,” being sung.

I remember everything seeming so strange to me.

“Why couldn’t I go with my aunt?”

And “didn’t we just toilet, together?”

“Why am I waiting here so long?”

And “what’s that weird song they’re singing?”

“Where exactly, are we?”

By now, my boredom was so strong that I made up my mind to go follow my Aunt. I will take the road where we just came from. Afterall, she only went to toilet. She can’t be far. I confidently take two steps into the road and as I’m turning sharply to my left, I hear it. I freeze in place. Across the T-interrsection. Ahead. On the right-hand side. The bark of a dog. Suddenly, fear floods me as I hear the bark, for the second time. And then a third time. Then a fourth. I clamber to the bench and climb to the top rung of the backrest. There I crouch. I cry and scream. My screams must have alerted the attentions of a passerby because the next thing I heard was a man’s voice shouting at me asking me “What is the matter? What has happened?”

“I’m afraid of the dog,” I cried.

My next memory is of the policeman standing beside me and quietly asking me,”What are you doing here? Why aren’t you in school?”

“Oh. I’m waiting for my aunt,” I said. “She’s gone to toilet.”

“Hmmmm,” he said. Then he sat down on the bench. “I’ll wait with you.”

I don’t know how long we waited there, together, the policeman and I. But I recall not being bored nor afraid any longer. My next memory is of the policeman and myself, my hand in his, walking down the same road my aunt and I had come from. And then we boarded a bus. I don’t remember what happened after that.

Security staff

Security staff

Families For Children Orphanage

FFC signs

FFC signs

The passerby and his discovery of the abandoned blind child named Thangamoni and the policeman, are recorded in my earliest written documents and in my adoption papers. These early records indicate, it was November of 1978, a policeman brought me to the home of Kuzanthaikal Kudunpan which is the Families For Children home. The orphanage is located in Podanur which is a neighborhood of Coimbatore City. The orphanage is owned and operated by a Canadian family who now reside in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. It was the orphanage which gave me my birthdate and an age estimation based on my size, height, verbal abilities and physical capabilities. They had estimated my age to be “about” three-years-old having had my birth sometime in June, 1975.

My next memories are at the Families For Children orphanage. Nothing concrete exactly. Just flashes of events.

Me sitting at a bench and table, surrounded by many other children. I am eating something from a bowl. I don’t remember exactly what it is that I am eating.

FFC kitchen

FFC kitchen

Me riding a bicycle with a long banana seat on a dirt track around a tall grove of trees in which I hear rustling leaves made by blowing breezes or maybe animals.

Mommy Sandra receives us children at the entrance to the kitchen room. I am standing at the bottom of the platform waiting my turn to receive bonbons from her as she hands them out from a bag she carries in her hand.

FFC office

FFC office

Me exploring the compound grounds and discovering backdoors, building alcoves and hidey-holes.

housing building for special needs and girls

housing building for special needs and girls

Preschool and toddlers section

Preschool and toddlers section

Me being cautioned by an adult to avoid the clif which leads down to the goats.

Learning my route from the sleeping room to the kitchen room.

Learning to count the number of stairs leading up into the kitchen room

Me being advised to take care when walking through the vegetable gardens.

FFC garden

FFC garden

Me running with other children and banging into objects and continuing on around them as though nothing was in my path.

FFC playground

FFC playground

Me being showed the concrete bathing area and learning to bathe myself.

Me being taught to squat and hover over the toilet hole and place my feet carefully on the raised slabs of stone.

Me in the sleeping room exploring the baby cribs, caressing the babies and checking out the racks of baby clothing.

Me sitting with other children in the back box of a pickup truck. Other children are gathered around the pickup truck and everyone is crying. Some people
are holding my hands, touching my hair, patting my shoulders and stroking my back.

Adoption Day

In June 1979, when I was around 4-years-old, the official records indicate my guardian at the Kuzanthaikal Kudunpan home, petitioned the court for a travel visa and a passport for me as I was assigned foreign adoption to a Canadian couple. In July 1979, the court granted my travel documents as foreign adoption was “for the best advantage and bright future of the blind minor child.” In October, 1979, I, along with other children and adults from the orphanage, made our long voyage from India to Canada.

The pickup truck memory is more vivid than all the others. I must have witnessed the pickup truck scene a few times. All the other times, I was standing outside the truck holding the hands of children inside the box of the pickup. We are all crying. Saying our goodbyes. Simultaneously feeling happy and hopeful for their new families while mourning their absence. But on one particular day in my memory, I am inside the truck box. It is my adoption day! I remember feeling excited. I was told several times that day that I was going to meet my new mommy and new daddy. I remember being told to scrub myself clean from the batheing area. I remember wearing a new special dress for my journey.

I remember snippets of an airplane ride. …

I remember there was something different with my ears because I couldn’t hear things the same way. Everything sounded so different. Voices were muffled and hushed.

I remember waking up wrapped in a blanket on a seat and my body was moving.

I remember freely running down a building corridor.

Jens Arrival In Canada With Her Adopted Mother and Mommy Sandra

Jens Arrival In Canada With Her Adopted Mother and Mommy Sandra

I remember being introduced to my new parents.

Jen On Arrival Day In Canada

Jen On Arrival Day In Canada

Jens Arrival In Canada With Mom Image

Jens Arrival In Canada With Mom Image

I was so excited. I remember running circles around my new mommy and new daddy. I was so thirsty and I was pulling on their hands to go find water.

Life In Canada

I, along with other children from the orphanage, traveled from India and arrived in Canada in October 1979. I made my entrance into Canada through Montreal Quebec. In those days, Montreal was the headquarters of Families For Children. It currently operates out of Toronto. To learn more about the Families For Children organization, please visit the website http://www.familiesforchildren.ca/

From my landing in Montreal, my new parents, Ronald and Janet Ferris, took me home to #88 Ponderosa Crescent, London Ontario where I was introduced to my new adopted brothers and sisters and grandparents. I was now being called Jenny Marjorie Ferris, having been given the first names of both my grandmothers and the family last name. In February, 1980, a few short months after I arrived in Canada, I was baptized with the name of Jenny Marjorie (Thangamoni) in the Anglican Church of Canada. The Canadian government officially granted me Canadian citizenship through naturalization in February 1982.

Jen With Her New Tricycle

Jen With Her New Tricycle

Jen Showing Off Her New Yellow Dress

Jen Showing Off Her New Yellow Dress

I thrived well in my new Canadian home with new Canadian parents and siblings. I learned to use the western-style toilets. I developed the pallet for western foods. I went to the same preschools as my siblings and I made new friends. I already knew English because the orphanage taught us the English language. But I learned to pronounce words without my thick East Indian accent. I even adjusted to icy cold snowy Canadian winters. I got accustomed to wearing closed-heel and closed-toe shoes. Oh, that’s a story from my father’s memory bank. He would often remark to me that I had feet so hard and so tough they were like hooves. In fact, I remember him telling me my feet clicked on the linoleum floors in my first Canadian home. I don’t remember that, but even now, my feet are still very hard, rough and calassed. So much so, that no amount of soaking, scraping, filing and creaming could ever soften them to a standard acceptable to a lady. Trust me on that one! I keep trying.

Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada

About two years after my arrival in Canada, our family left London Ontario and moved west and north up to the Yukon Territory. We resided in the capital city, Whitehorse, and it was here, where I was raised and grew up.

I was educated in the public school system up until my grade twelve graduation. As soon as I was old enough to learn and memorize walking routes, I started walking to and from school on my own using my white cane or with my friends. I preferred walking with my friends so that I didn’t have to use my cane. There was a time, in my early years, when my older sister had the responsibility of walking home with me to ensure my safety and I had to use my white cane. I was not allowed to hold my sister’s hand or arm, nor was she permitted to double me on her bike. Jill was embarrassed to walk with her younger sister and I was ashamed to admit that I was not old enough nor skilled enough to walk by myself. So we often walked a distance apart and pretended that we didn’t know each other. From this experience, I learned very quickly to walk to and from school independently so that I wouldn’t embarrasss my older sister and so that I could be more grown up. As much as my older sister was embarrassed to walk beside me, she always watched out for me. I think that is what helped me to gain confidence in my travel abilities and use my mobility skills so well. I felt I was travelling independently, and for the most part, I was walking quite independently, but I knew my sister was close by. I’m quite certain, she rescued me from a few close encounters with vehicles, bicycles and other children or even wrong turns from time to time, probably more often than I would care to admit.

There was one time, though, Jill was in a hurry to get home, I think she wanted to catch an after school television program. So she doubled me on her bike. She was so nervous because Mom said that she would check up on us on her way home from getting groceries and Jill didn’t want to get caught doubling me. Well, I don’t know exactly what happened, but she must have turned to see if mom was coming. And the next thing I know my long, rigid unfolding white cane was in her spokes and we tumbled over the handle bars and onto the road. Oh, Jill gave me so much trouble for that! I don’t rmember either of us being hurt too badly, but Jill was quite scraped and scratched up on her arms and legs and face. Then when we got home and mom found out that Jill was bleeding and that my long rigid white cane was bent and scratched up from getting caught in Jill’s bike spokes. … We both got in so much trouble. After that, Jill wasn’t allowed to ride her bike to school for a while and I wasn’t allowed to “walk” with Jill anymore. And I had the added humiliation of walking around with a severely bent scratched up cane. I didn’t like using the cane anyway because I felt that the white cane made me stand out and look different. But my parents were very insistent that I use it. And they did frequent drive bys to ensure I was using it. And using it properly.

As you can see, my parents insisted that I be treated the same as my five other siblings. I was given my own set of household chores. It was my job to dust the living and dining room furnitures, window sills and the spots between the spindles of the railing around the stairs. I also had to wash the fronts of the kitchen cupboard doors. As I got older, I had a rotation place on the dinner dishes clean up roster. We were responsible for doing our own laundry and bedding. When my mom started working outside the home, I had some responsibility to prepare portions of the dinner meal so that we didn’t eat too late in the evening. I had my turn in looking after my younger sister and brother when my parents went out in the evenings.

Early Jobs

When I was eleven, I was old enough to take the babysitting course. My friends and I enrolled in the course together and after I attained my certification, I started babysitting neighbourhood children to earn my spending money. By this time, my younger sister was looking after my younger brother which afforded me more time to start responding to babysitting referrals made by my friends. Of course more babysitting jobs outside my family meant that I could earn more money. So, I was most pleased to have additional parents on my client list. And besides which, looking after other children was so much better than looking after my own siblings. There came a time when parents at our church learned that I was babysitting and I quickly grew my client list to overflowing. Eventually, my younger sister and I shared babysitting clients and made referrals to one another.

In the summer of the year I turned fifteen, I got my first job with a real weekly pay-cheque from a real organization. My dad was the Anglican Bishop for the Yukon Territory. He helped me to get a summer job as a Museum Attendant for a converted log church. My job was to give guided tours around the various displays telling the history of the presence of the Anglican Church through out the Yukon communities and relay humourous stories of the interactions between the native peoples and the various bishops. For the next three summers, I spent my time working in the Old Log Church Museum. When I was sixteen, my older sister, Jill, said that I should get an afterschool job and suggested that I apply to work at her friend’s childcare centre called Maranantha Daycare. So, I applied there having all of my babysitting experiences behind me. I was hired on to work in the after school program. I worked, there until I graduated from highschool.

The summer months between highschool graduation and the September start of college, I worked as a family Nanny for three young children. A friend from the church youth group made the referral for me. It was great timing, as the mom was going back to work from her maternity leave after having her third child. In fact, when I called the mom to introduce myself and inquire after the position, I learned that she was the boss of my mother who worked at the hearing clinic. Everything fell into place so easily and with such little effort. It was a great job and I worked with the family for the next three summers in the intersessions of the university months.

When I started babysitting, I stopped receiving a weekly allowance from my parents and there was an expectation that I would start buying my own clothes and extra wants. My parents always provided us with the necessities of life but extras such as hair products, makeup, clothes and face cleansers and creams were our responsibilities. I enjoyed that freedom very much.

Speaking of freedom, … There was a time in Junior Highschool, my best friend, Filipa and I would go around to people’s houses offering to wash their cars. It wasn’t nearly as good money as babysitting because we split the profits. But it was great fun and quite the adventure! Oh, she and I got into a lot of mischief together.

I’m so grateful for the friendships I had growing up as a child. My sighted friends introduced me to fantastic experiences, adventures and mischiefs. Having sighted friends helped me to fit into the mainstream community and neighbourhoods. These shared experiences and unspeakable thrills rounded me out and facilitated my need to belong to a group and expose me to a variety of activities. Most of all, I lived and had experiences which are relatable to the sighted world and make my life story so much more enjoyable to live and retell!

Indebted Friendships

Jen With Friends At Her Birthday Party

Jen With Friends At Her Birthday Party

I am so grateful for the friends I had while growing up. You see, my friends and siblings never treated me any differently from other sighted children. And so I never felt I was blind. And I never thought of myself as being blind, either. But obviously I was blind and am blind, still. But despite being blind, it was never a hinderance for me.

Jen Pulling Younger Siblings On Toboggan

Jen Pulling Younger Siblings On Toboggan

I guess, I would say that my first friendships were with my siblings, especially my younger sister, Rani. We were best friends and for much of our childhood we were inseparable. We did almost everything, together, except our schooling as we were in different grades on account of our two-year age difference. We were in Brownies and then Girl Guides, together. We worked on and earned similar badges to wear on our sleeves and sashes. She got a lot of athletic and outdoors badges whereas I worked on reading, sewing, knitting and cooking ones. I learned for memory, the neighborhood streets by walking with her. We would walk everywhere together, because our parents insisted they were not our taxi drivers. We walked to our friends’ houses, the candy store, neighborhood playgrounds and the swimming pool. We would skate on the neighbourhood ice rinks. We would go cross country skiing along the green belt trails and tobogganning on the sliding hills behind our house. Whereas I was slow, rough and clumsy, Rani was athletic, quick and agile. I tried to adopt her athletic abilities, but I never succeeded in that endeavour. Looking back, though, I’m pleased I had the opportunity to be involved in athletics. We would go explore Pelly pond and catch frogs and salamanders. I must admit, Rani did all the catching. I think I frightened them all away as I continually stirred up the mud and churned the waters. As we got older, we were shopping buddies and each other’s fashion critics. For school, I often did Rani’s hair. She wore it long and I would French braide it or twist it or make an inside-out ponytale or any other style she fancied, that day.

My primary grades school friend, Terri and I had great fun. We would play together during recesses on the school grounds. We would run and climb on the big toys, slides and tire swings. We would perform acrobatic tricks on the parallel ropes, swing hand-over-hand on the monkey bars, cross the chasms by way of the rings and do gymnastics on the freestanding bars. We would often run off into the woods in the fall to pick berries, go sliding on the snow hills in the winter and iceskate on the outdoor rinks during minus 40 weather. There were often times we would meet up on the street corner to spend our weekly allowances at the candy store on fun dips … pop rocks … sweet tarts … big mouth gumballs and Bazooka Joe bubble gum and Tootsie Roll gum and candies. Oh man! We would stuff so many pieces of gum in our mouths and see who could blow the biggest bubbles. I had so much gum stuck in my hair, eyebrows and chin in those days.

My elementary school friend, Rachel was a Godsend to me. She lived on my street, just a few houses up and across from my own. She was so smart and had an incredible imagination. We would often pretend we were time travelling by running from street lamp to street lamp. We went to Egypt during King Tut’s reign and got lost in the tombs of the dead and found treasures. She introduced me to so many books that I didn’t even know existed. I had Braille books borrowed from the library of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. But they were so old fashioned books and quite outdated. My friend Rachel would read me popular books and modern day stories that all the kids were reading. She exposed me to so much outside of my own world and we had great fun. There was one particular time when we climbed the ladder up onto her roof to get more sun and for the entire afternoon and evening we read a book about a tomboy who was forced into the beauty pageant scene by her mother. I remember we would make up plays and tape record our stories on cassettes. We would also spend countless hours brushing the hair of our barbies and dressing them up for various parties. On hot sunny days in the summer, we rode our bikes down to the Yukon river near the fish ladder to jump off the rocks into the cool flowing current of water below. That was something else out of this world!! Now, I follow her on Facebook and stay caught up on her world gallivants through Europe, Nepal and Brittain. We stay in touch with ongoing instant chat sessions.

My junior highschool friend, Filipa and I were inseparable during those three years. We had all the same classes together and shared homework assignments back and forth. We joined the school plays, often playing roles which fed off each other or complemented one another in some fashion or another. We attended the school dances and had crushes on the same boys. We drifted apart from time to time as new friends and boyfriends came and went but our friendship remained strong over the years. We were even roomates in college for a while. And today, we have marathon chats as we catch up on each other’s lives.

Highschool years was a time that I both hated and adored. This time was quite tumultuous with each day bringing new emotional highs and lows and drastic hormonal fluctuations. My circle of friends was quite wide and I was exposed to so many more new girls and guys as the three junior highschools converged into one highschool in our small city. Everyday, new friendship alliances formed and broke up just as quickly. I went through the typical teenage “Rights of Passages” as I tried to fit into all the different cliques. I remember being sucked into the rumour mills and getting involved in the gossip circles. I attended the church youth groups and participated in the bible studies and lunchtime prayer sessions. Meanwhile, I went to bush parties and house parties and experimented with various drugs and alcohol substances to try to fit in with the “cool” kids. I even tried to fit in with the jocks by attending all the different team sporting events with my friends. During this bizarre time, though, I I was being noticed by the boys and I was liking that attention. And not only that, … but I had my choice of boys. During my grade ten year, I had my first real date and steady boyfriend. We went out together until early grade twelve when we went our separate ways.

It was during my grade twelve year when I buckled down and focussed on my academics. I guess it probably was at the urgings of my teachers and parents that pushed me into focussing on school. I never did like school, much. It was just one of those childhood necessities. When I didn’t work, I could pull off grades in the sixties. When I worked hard and studied hard, I achieved marks in the midseventies to early eighties. School never came easy to me and I struggled through it everyday. I primarily viewed school as social time. But all that changed in grade twelve. My friends Jocelyn and Leonie and I studied and worked hard and encouraged each other through grueling math, biology and French assignments. University education was our destinies. My Dad helped me to make that happen with course selections and filling out university applications and applications for scholarships and grants. A lot of my grade twelve classes were entrance requirements into university and that also meant taking and passing British Columbia provincial examinations. You see, the Yukon school system followed the British Columbia school curriculum. That was a lucky break for me which meant that I would have an easier time gaining acceptance into the British Columbia universities and colleges. I don’t believe I even attempted to apply for universities and colleges outside the Yukon and British Columbia area.

Jen HighSchool Cap and Gown Procession

Jen HighSchool Cap and Gown Procession

Jen and Brother Matt HighSchool Cap and Gown

Jen and Brother Matt HighSchool Cap and Gown

In June 1993, I graduated from highschool with dreams of my future in my heart and hopes of a life to come in my head. I didn’t plan for greatness and grandeur. And I didn’t even know what to expect for a life to be. Instead, life just played out for me day-by-day and I went along with the ride. My highschool counsellors urged me to go into Psychology. My father thought I should pursue law. My Educational Assistant thought I would benefit from studying higher level Mathematics and Calculus. but I, personally did not know what direction I would take. All I knew was that I loved learning about the inner workings of the human body and the brain.

Jens HighSchool Official Graduation Portrait

Jens HighSchool Official Graduation Portrait

Jen and Brother Matt HighSchool Prom Atire

Jen and Brother Matt HighSchool Prom Atire

Jen and Highschool Prom partner Bo

Jen and Highschool Prom partner Bo

During our grade twelve prom, Jocelyn and I hung out together despite having gone with our dates and our parents. After the formalities of dinner, parading and dancing, we mingled around admiring other people’s dresses and prom gifts. We watched sweethearts and wondered aloud on what the future held for them as couples. We stayed a while, but we quickly got bored. Joce and I changed out of our heels and dresses. With our dates alongside of us, we went for a long walk through the trails of Miles Cannyon discussing our futures and lamenting our departures. After watching the early sunrise we went for breakfast and home to our beds.

Home In Victoria British Columbia, Canada

The Trials And Tribulations Of University

I was nineteen-years-old when I left Whitehorse to pursue a university education in Victoria British Columbia. I hated University with a passion and it was really hard for me. I failed every class for the first three years. Gone were the days of an Educational Assistant and an Itenerant Teacher for the blind and visually impaired. I didn’t know when and how to register for my classes and get my books. It was a rude awakening when I learned that no textbooks were in Braille and that everything was on casette tapes and they would only arrive 6 weeks to two months after the courses started, which put me so far behind. Then when the taped textbooks arrived, I found the material so boring and every few sentences I would drift away in my mind. In order to pay attention, I found myself transcribing into Braille, every word I heard. I had no way of determining what was important and what was anecdotal and what was a trivial point. I had no way of taking Braille notes in my lectures. I had to tape record each class and take notes afterwards. I didn’t know how to study and so I was never prepared for exams and I failed them all. I didn’t know how to research and write papers. And I was so financially broke! I was always hungry, strung out on coffee and sugar and very lonely. I was so deep in student debt! The whole process was incredibly frustrating! I cannot tell you the countless times I debated dropping out, altogether.

It was around 1997 that technology caught up with my requirements for learning. At the University of Victoria, through the Centre For Students With Disabilities, I was able to get my purchased textbooks scanned into an electronic file. I could then convert this electronic file into Braille and emboss my entire textbook and read the material in Braille. I also was able to use my computer to read the text aloud to me and supplement the important pieces of texts with Braille. I also received an equipment grant so that I could purchase a Braille notetaker which had a scrollable Braille display. The Braille notetaker allowed me to take Braille notes in my lectures and study groups. Finally!!! Once this transition in technology occurred, I was able to thrive in university and I received grades in the high eighties to low nineties. This was a tremendous victory for me.

It was around 1999 that the internet was more readily available and more material was being published online. This helped me to access and read academic journals and other publications for writing research papers. The internet opened up for me so many doors of knowledge and I loved accessing information that I couldn’t even know existed in library stacks. With all of these technology advancements, I quickly found out that I was a visual learner and not an auditory learner as everyone had assumed. Once I could access material through touch in the form of reading Braille, I learned by tactile means. I could then convert the tactile information into mental images which I used to form intelligence and enhance my mental capacities. This fact, alone, was ahuge breakthrough for me. I knew I wasn’t the smartest kid around, but I also knew that with a lot of effort and hard work, I had the potential to learn and do well. I figured out with the right tools and access to the right material in the right format, I could learn and learn well.

Tehcnology advancements helped me to do quite well in university, by now. My grades were sufficiently high enough for application into the Honours program in the fourth academic year of my studies. I had been studying in university for seven years by this time. Nonetheless, in the spring of 2000, I gained acceptance into the Psychology Honours program which commenced in September 2000.

For the Honours degree program, I completed a research study and wrote an independent thesis based on my research with adolescents residing in the Psychiatric ward of the Queen Alexandra Centre For Children’s Health. I was so fortunate to be granted permission to conduct research on these children. It was rare that researchers had access to this highly sensitive population. I think my good fortune was the result of an established relationship through 5 years of volunteering for four hours a week with the organization in different departments. For several years, I volunteered in the rehabilitation area with severely developmentally delayed children. Then I gradually gained entrance into the adolescent Psychiatric ward. I enjoyed the time I spent on the adolescent unit the most of all because I was able to interact with and engage the children in conversation and games. I learned so much about life and family challenges while working with these children. It was a graduation requirement of the Psychology program to have at least 100 volunteer hours in the field. I’m glad it was a requirement, too, because no amount of textbook theories could have ever taught me the real world practical application of life in the field of mental health or children.

University Jobs

While I was at university, I held various jobs. For four summers, I returned to Whitehorse for work in summer jobs. My first summer job while attending university was the family nanny position. I was fortunate to returned to this job year after year for three years in a row. For my final summer trip to Whitehorse, I worked for the City of Whitehorse as a recreation program leader for the city run summer daycamps.

In the summer of 1997, I decided to stay in Victoria and look for work in British Columbia. I worked for the Canadian National Institute For The Blind as one of the five Recreation Assistants At the Bowen Lodge By The Sea, located on Bowen Island, a small island in Horseshoe Bay just off Vancouver’s North Shore in British Columbia. This was a summer camp program for blind and visually impaired adults, teenagers, children and their families. I was the only blind person on staff. The other Recreation Assistants and the Recreation Director were sighted. So, I guess I brought the unique perspective to the team. It was the best summer I ever had and the best job, too. When I was a child and a teenager, I attended this summer camp a couple of times, when my family vacationed in Vancouver British Columbia. My father studied at the university and us children had the summer to play and, in my case, attend the summer camp for a week. So, it was great for me to return to this summer camp location as an adult and as an employee. Attending the camp as a child and then later, as an adult, working at the camp, exposed me to other blind and visually impaired children and adults. I learned so much about other blind and visually impaired people from the times I spent there.

During the university study months, I held various partime jobs as a Work Study Student on campus. I worked in the Career Counselling library and the Resource Centre for Students With Disabilities. I also worked as a research assistant in the Department of Psychology. In the summers of 1998 and 1999, I decided to take summer classes to finish my degree quicker and I also held parttime jobs on campus. I took three additional courses each summer which helped me to complete my course work sooner. In the summer of 2000, I held a fulltime Research position at the BC Institute For Cooperative Studies.

In June 2001, I graduated from the University of Victoria with a Bachelor Of Arts degree with Honours in Psychology. That was a long eight-year stint in university just to attain my Bachelor’s degree. But I did it. It was just one more of those life’s milestones that I met and gained success in. Given half a chance, would I do it all over again? … Not for anything in the whole wide world. It was really challenging. It was extremely difficult. And it was terribly expensive and I will be paying off my student loan debt for a long time to come.

After University Graduation

My friend, Sheila worked in the military and in May 2001, she recommended me for a casual position as a civilian working for the Navy in the Department of National Defence. This was my very first job with the Federal Government and I held the position of a Communications Officer. Over the years, I had many jobs in the Federal Government. I worked in Human Resources for a couple of years on term and student co-op contracts. In 2005, I commenced as a permanent employee working in a finance role for a few years. Since May 2010, when I moved to Ottawa, I’ve been working as a Research Officer for the Assistant Deputy Minister of the Real Property Branch in the department of Public Works and Government Services Canada. In this position, I research and write
articles on workplace trends in the real estate industry.

Here’s a shocker! You know how much I detest school? Well, in September 2002, I went back to University for my masters degree in Public Administration. When I started working in Government, I saw many areas for improvement and gaps in processes and procedures. I saw many opportunities where harnessing the advancement in technology could improve efficiencies and effectiveness in the administration of programs. I discussed my thoughts for ways to improve the program and operational areas, but nobody wants to be told about how they can do their jobs better, especially from a know-it-all rookie. I quickly learned that talking about improving methods and techniques was like pushing a piece of string up hill. I was informed if I wanted to make a real difference in my workplace, I ought to consider getting a Masters degree in order to work in policy and leadership roles. I studied for this masters program on a parttime basis while I worked fulltime for the Federal Government. In the fall of 2008, however, I took an unpaid leave of absence from my job to concentrate on finishing up my thesis. Finally, in December of 2009, I finished my Masters degree. I wrote and defended a thesis on management practices in the Federal Government. It was a long seven years in which I dedicated to work and my studies. Was the sacrifice of a fun and exciting life worth the second degree? I don’t know that answer, yet, but I’m hopeful the benefits will present themselves, sooner rather than later. I would really like the Masters degree to be more than another pile of student debt!!! You see, from 2001 to now, I have changed jobs several times in the government, but I never climbed the corporate ladder. In May 2010, I moved to Ottawa Ontario, Canada, to try to secure better opportunities for me to progress in my career. Ottawa is the capital city of Canada and it is the headquarters for the Federal government. So, by moving to Ottawa, I figured I would have good chances for upward mobility. I have competed for multiple higher level jobs through competitive processes, but I have yet to prove myself as a successful candidate. When I realized my efforts for securing higher level jobs were not getting results, I went through a long period of anguish and resentment. And after a while, I knew I had to get a grip on my emotions and create a healthier mental framework for my self. So, I spent some time in self discovery and exploration. I spent time figuring out where and how I could add value and serve people. I’ve come to accept that I don’t want to climb the career ladder in the Canadian Federal Government. I discovered that I want to dedicate myself to you and put my mental energies and time into supporting you, my clients.

Jen hugging her dog, Clifer

Jen hugging her dog, Clifer

Doing It Blind

Growing up in Whitehorse, I didn’t know any other blind people. Well, except I heard stories of an excentric blind gentleman around my parents’ age who lived far out in the woods in a log cabbin with no running water and no electricity. I heard it said that he would ride his bike out to the highway and hitch-hike a ride into town for his job and groceries. So, between this old excentric country guy and me, the city dweller … how could I even make a true comparison. We had nothing in common, so I didn’t even consider him even remotely similar to me. And, I didn’t even know him. I only heard of him. So, I didn’t know how other blind people got on with their lives. I know I was the first blind child to go through the Yukon public school system. So that meant there were no other blind children living in Whitehorse during my childhood. When I went to Bowen Lodge Summer camp as a child and teenager, it was my first time being around other blind kids.

When I attended Bowen Lodge summer camp, parents, itinerant teachers and mobility structors often asked me questions about my independence and ability to navigate my physical surroundings. I didn’t know what to tell them. I just simply did not know how to respond to these questions. Wasn’t I normal? Didn’t other blind people get around and get on like me? The more I interacted with other blind children at this camp and later on with adults, I came to learn that my mobility skills were quite advanced and I possessed a lot more daily living skills than the people I encountered. To be clear, I was no prodigy and I didn’t possess any remarkable talents. I guess, I just had more advantages in my childhood upbringing than most other blind and visually impaired kids.

Later on, when I asked my parents about my independence and skills, they responded, “we’re just lazy.” I can say now, with absolute confidence, their laziness was my great benefit and my best advantage as a blind adult.

My parents claim they were lazy, but they had the forethought and insight to teach me and ensure I possessed skills for independent living, mobility and navigation. From where I’m standing, though, it doesn’t seem lazy to me. I think teaching a blind child everyday skills which a sighted person just might take for granted, requires a lot of time, a lot of effort and a whole lot of patience. I suppose, once the blind child has mastered a skill and becomes adept at performing the activity on their own, then a parent can afford to sit back, relax and be lazy.

The fact is, a blind child cannot necessarily model an action through sight for the obvious reason that the child cannot see. With verbal and hand-over-hand instructions, appropriate corrections and slight adjustments, the blind child can do and perform most activities skillfully. It all starts with you, the parent. Or you, the educator. As the adult, you have to know what is possible, set high expectations, be willing to teach necessary skills and exercise patience while skills attainment is underway.

This is the point in my story where I start to serve you.

I know how to live independently. I moved out of my parents house when I was eighteen-years-old and I have been living independently on my own ever since. I physically moved to five different cities in Canada for work or schooling and I made these moves without help from my family or friends.

I know what it is like to achieve expectations and be responsible and produce outcomes. I live in a society where I am expected to pay my way. I’m under a government regime where receiving disability supports is emotionally, physically and socially disparaging and is hard to justify as a capable individual. I dated men who expected me to carry my share of the load in terms of finance and household chores. I have family and friends who expect and demand that I take care of myself and perform daily living tasks independently. I went to school where I was expected to submit papers on time and achieve high marks on exams. And I worked in jobs where I was being paid to perform well, produce outcomes and add value to the team.

I know about raising and educating children. I’ve worked in several daycares. I worked as a family nanny. I held jobs as a Recreation Program Leader. And I studied Developmental Psychology. I have also worked with children in clinical care settings and psychiatric wards of hospitals. But best of all, I love children and typically, they like me, too.

Being Ordinary

I’m not world renowned for extraordinary talents. I haven’t won any awards for outstanding achievements. I haven’t received any high honours nor great accolades. And I haven’t been paraded through the channels of media. No. None of it. Because my message is about being an ordinary person, living an ordinary life in ordinary communities, attending ordinary schools playing with ordinary friends and carrying out ordinary jobs. There’s nothing extraordinary about being blind. And living life as a blind individual can be as ordinary or as extraordinary as someone chooses. For me, blindness is a mere nuisance while I navigate life. Of course, anyone can make a fulfilling life when we choose to be involved, actively participate, interact with our sighted peers and contribute fully to our communities.

I’m a simple woman, living a simple life. I’m earning an honest living through my work with the Federal Government to pay off my student loans and business debts. At the end of the work days and on weekends, after I have caught up with friends, cleaned the apartment, done the laundry, gone for groceries, ran my errands, paid my bills, cooked my meals, taken my dog for walks, … I sit down to plan, organize and create content for you. I ensure all elements on the DoingItBlind.com website is in great working order so that you have a good navigating experience. I do it all to ensure generations of blind people live ordinary lives. I want to ensure they are highly engaged, hugely interactive, participate fully and are well integrated into schools, communities, and neighbourhoods. On The Doing It Blind website, I help parents and educators to provide the opportunity for your blind and visually impaired children and students to ensure they have options and can make choices to impact their life outcome.

Over the years, I’ve spent countless hours with parents, educators and mobility instructors advising them on techniques and methods to use to help their blind child to be more active, interactive and engaged. And many times over I have heard them ask …

“Do you have a website?”

“Where can I go to read more about you and your techniques?”

“What’s your web address?”

“I’d really like to refer your services, are you on the internet?”

“Do you have an online resource?”

“You know, you could help so many more people if you publish your material.”

“I wish I could meet other parents who are going through the same challenges and have had the same successes as me and my child.”

I struggled with these comments and questions for a long time. I didn’t really think I had the time and energy to invest in a business. I didn’t think I had enough material to develop a website. I didn’t think I could get paying customers. And then, one day. I took the plunge. And here we are with an established website with the goal of guiding and supporting you through raising and educating your blind or visually impaired child .

It’s my job to do the following for you:

  • Provide you guidance and advice so that you can teach your child to perform daily living activities;
  • Ensure you see the realm of endless possibilities for your child;
  • Help you to overcome stereotypes and misperceptions of blindness;
  • Guide you through setting up a world of no limits for your child;
  • Lead you to set reasonable expectations for your child;
  • Support you to stay firm on those established expectations when insisting your child perform activities independently;
  • Be able to problem solve as new challenges arise;
  • Have strategies, tools, techniques and methods to support your child in meeting and exceeding developmental milestones through various life stages;
  • Navigate the public school system to be the best advocate for your child’s educational needs;
  • Feel confident and have peace of mind in your child’s ability to independently navigate inside your home and outside in the big open world;
  • Take pride in telling your parent friends with sighted children that “Of course, my blind daughter walks independently to her friend’s house,” or “sure my blind son runs around on the playground with his friends,” or “you better believe my blind teenager has an after school job,” and on and on;
  • I engage and interact with you on the parent and educator on-line community forum to help you connect with parents and educators to discuss challenges, redirect questions to experts in the field, provide answers, follow the progress of families and receive tips and guidance;
  • On the Doing It Blind Podcast, I interview successful blind adults, their parents and experts in the field of blindness so that you have role models, strategies, techniques, tools and methods to help you integrate your child or student into mainstream society;
  • On the Doing It Blind UTube channel, videos showcasing toys, games, books and technologies are published to provide insight into play, learning, coaxing interests and skills mastery for competence and setting a course for current and future successes;
  • The various webpages are designed to facilitate your learning about blindness and being visually impaired;
  • I will purchase and demonstrate toys and tools to make achieving those milestones easier for your child so that you don’t have to unnecessarily spend money on useless gimics;
  • And most of all, I am an online, in-person or by phone resource for you whenever you need a hand or ear.

If this website sounds like it might be a useful resource for you as a parent or an educator, I invite you to sign up to my email list and continue browsing the site for tips, tricks and techniques.

It’s easy! Just use the form below.

As a token of gratitude for signing up to my email list, I would like to offer you a free twenty (20) minute FREE consultation. During this time, you can ask me anything. Or talk to me about any issue. Or discuss any problem. Tell me about the glowing prideful moments of achieving milestones. I want you to get the feeling that I am here to serve you.

See you inside!