It mystifies Lily Frederiksen that people with the gift of vision can’t see the barrier between her world and theirs. To the 17-year-old, blind since birth, it is as clear and palpable as a brick wall.
“People seem to think we’re vastly different, but we’re not really that different. We can be friends. We just can’t see,” says Lily.
Like other teenagers, Lily spends a lot of time on her iphone and ipad (using Apple’s voice-activated settings). Like her peers, she studies the courses required to get a high school diploma. Like her classmates, she participates in extra-curricular activities, has career aspirations and dreams of getting married and starting a family.
It’s true that when she ‘looks for’ something she uses her hands. When she ‘reads’, she listens or uses her fingers. When she walks, she uses a white cane, but she has the same moods and feelings as other kids. She has just as many ideas and talents and interests as they do. Like them, she wants to belong and be respected.
Right now, Lily says, she’s growing up “in a bubble.” The school she attends, W. Ross MacDonald School in Brantford, has only blind students. Her parents and brother don’t dwell on her blindness at home in Paris. It is only when she ventures outside the bounds of her safe, protected world that she doesn’t quite fit in.
She’ll soon have to step out of the bubble. When she finishes high school, she aims to go to Conestoga College in Kitchener for its two-year radio broadcasting program.
On campus, she’ll have to adapt to the practices of a sighted world. She’ll have to meet the same standards as students who can see and read, and navigate their way around effortlessly. She’ll have to team up with classmates who can’t fathom what it is like to be blind. She can’t fathom what is like to be sighted.
Lily was born with no vision, although her mother, April, didn’t immediately recognize it. When she took Lily for her six-week check-up, the midwife told her Lily’s pupils did not dilate properly.
“You’d better take her to a doctor,” she said.
April doesn’t recall being distraught or devastated when she learned her daughter could not see. The family had been through bigger tragedies.
“I guess we’ll just have to deal with this,” she told her husband.
The couple made sure she got the right care and training. By the time Lily was four, she was starting to read braille and she was beginning to learn how to use a white cane. At five, she entered W. Ross Macdonald School full-time. For as long as Lily can remember, the CNIB has been part of her life.
Although she never faced the challenge of vision loss, she can imagine how trapped and scared a young person with deteriorating sight would feel. Here’s what she’d say: “Take it one day at a time. Try not to dwell on the future. If you have confidence in yourself and you get in touch with the right people, you can do almost anything.”
She is living proof of that. She can cook, clean and do most household tasks. She sings in the school choir and performs on stage. She took piano lessons for 12 years, and then switched to voice lessons. She is extraordinarily articulate, and she knows how to laugh at herself.
There are times Lily wishes she had the “superpower” of eyesight. She’d be able to find things more easily. She wouldn’t have to memorize routes and obstacles. She’d know what people look like.
On the other hand, she is no danger of judging anyone by their appearance. She has learned to see beyond the superficial.