West Van White Cane Week event continues to educate people about sight loss

She may have lost her sight but she still has the vision.

North Vancouver resident Amy Amantea was 24 years old when she lost her eyesight due to complications while undergoing surgery.

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“Many people think I should have sued, but it’s just not in my nature,” Amantea tells the North Shore News, regarding the anomaly that left her with about one per cent sight in both eyes following routine surgery 12 years ago.

Following the incident, Amantea didn’t let herself panic – instead, she waited. Doctors told her there was a chance her damaged retinas would reattach themselves, but only time would tell. They gave it a year.

“For that year, I did nothing – made no decisions, I didn’t sell my car, I didn’t make any life decisions, and I didn’t panic. I didn’t have this moment where I felt any loss,” she says, but, after a year went by, the verdict hadn’t changed. “Once that year came I realized there had been no change in what I could see.”

Amantea remembers what it was like when she first came home following the loss of her eyesight, when even the formerly simple tasks of applying toothpaste to toothbrush or discerning what bottle contained shampoo and which was conditioner became an unmitigated challenge.

But something happened, Amantea says, when she had to learn to live without sight, something that made it easier to accept it when she finally did realize her eyesight wouldn’t be returning.

“I realized that that hadn’t healed, but what had happened was in that year I learned how to navigate in my house,” she says. “As that year went on, you start to go, ‘OK, well this is where the wall is and if I navigate like this then I won’t hit the wall.’”

Following her loss of sight, Amantea had to leave her job and completely change her life, so her next insight, at the time, was even more profound: “What do I do with my life?”

After connecting with other people who were blind or partially sighted, Amantea knew one thing she wanted to do more was volunteer. She wanted to give back to the community that had helped her out so much when she was first contending with the loss of her own sight. “Once I met other blind people, that was the key,” she says.

For the past seven years, Amantea has led an annual White Cane Week event at Park Royal in West Vancouver.

The Canadian Council for the Blind initiative is an education forum and open house intended to raise public awareness for the challenges facing Canadians living with sight loss, in addition to providing resources and supports, and is marked with events put on by local CCB chapters and local communities.

“I think education is important for lots of reasons,” says Amantea. “Everybody is susceptible to sight loss. It’s a non-discriminatory disease.”

This year’s event, which also coincides with the 75th anniversary for the national CCB, will feature around 20 different businesses, resources and support services for people — including those living with sight loss, their families, loved ones, friends and caregivers — to learn about.

“There are blind people sitting at these tables talking about the organizations that they represent, sharing tips, networking with each other, and that just makes us all a little bit more independent,” she says. “It brings the blind community together as well, which I think is really powerful. There are lots of people that live with sight loss that don’t get out of their houses – and lots of people that do get out of their houses – but it brings us all together and each year we learn new things about each other, we are able to share with the public what we do, and we get so many questions.”

On the docket for this year’s White Cane Week event will be organizations and support services such as Canadian Assistive Technology, VocalEye Descriptive Arts Society, the BC Blind Sports and Recreation Association, Accessible Media Inc., and many more.

This year’s event is scheduled for Monday, Feb. 4 at the centre court at the Park Royal south mall from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. All are welcome.

“We all know somebody who’s touched by sight loss,” says Amantea, encouraging people to come check out the event. “The more education we can get to the public, the less people will be afraid. … A lack of sight is not a lack of vision.”

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