On March 28th the CCB and the blind community lost a vibrant young soul, a kind Canadian and a dedicated friend and family member. We also lost a leading peer mentor and assistive technology advocate and supporter. Rest In Peace Natasha.
Below is a reprint of an article featuring Natasha that was published in the March edition of the CCB National Newsletter.
CCB National Newsletter March 2017
We would like to take a moment to recognize an up and coming member in CCB: Natasha Achter, from Regina, SK.
Natasha has taken the initiative to start up a GTT group in her area, is a strong advocate for the blind and also happens to be a great curler!
She was the featured curling athlete for Curling Canada, and the following is the article that accompanied the accolade.
Since 2005, when she started blind curling in Regina, Natasha Achter has been accumulating trophies and titles.
That first season, her team made it to the Blind Curling National Championship in Ottawa, finishing third, and Natasha’s performance earned her recognition as Athlete of the Year for the Saskatchewan Blind Sports Association (SBSA).
Originally a lead, Natasha began skipping in 2007. Although her team finished at the bottom of a three-team league that first season, they rose to the challenge and took home the league’s Grand Aggregate Trophy twice, in 2009 and 2011, as well as the City Championship Trophy for playoffs in 2009-2010.
Natasha’s on-ice accolades include MVP status at the 2008 and 2009 Western Blind Curling Championship, an event she attended in 2011 with a team made up of players under the age of 30.
“I was very proud of them,” she says about her most recent trip to the event. “This was only our second Western Championship as a team.”
Birthplace: Regina, SK
Hometown: Regina, SK
Curling Club: Caledonia (Callie) Curling Club and Highland Curling Club
Current Team: SBSA Team Achter
Quick Hits with Natasha Achter
Do you have any superstitions?
“Yes I almost always have to wear my lucky pink toque. I just seem to win more with it than without it.”
Three people, living or not, whom you would invite to a dinner party.
“Kevin Martin, Abe Lincoln, and Rachel Ray to cook the food.”
If you could be a star in any other sport, what would it be, and why?
“Hockey, because I used to skate but was never that capable to play other than with my brothers.”
If you could change any rule in curling, which one would it be, and why?
“If I could change one rule it would be that we would be able to hit the boards, so that almost every rock is in play and this would make it so much easier for two reasons. One is that it would be easy to learn and two it would keep more of the totally blind curlers’ rocks in play.”
What music do you like to listen to before a game?
“Usually it’s just country on the radio in the car on the way to the rink, but last year at Westerns we had to listen to “I Got a Feeling” by the Black-Eyed Peas before every game to get us pumped up.”
… Website? “Facebook I guess it’s not my fave, just the one I visit most.”
… Order from Tim Hortons? “Iced coffee in the summer and hot chocolate in the winter”
… Vacation destination? “Maui, Hawaii. Aloha”
… Junk food? “Cheesies!”
Do you have any pet peeves?
“My third trying to change my mind (lol)! And when they say “Oh!” when the shot I called works. Just kidding. I don’t really have any.”
Three things you always travel with?
“My iPod touch, money, and good people to accompany me.”
First thing on your Bucket List?
“To go to Hawaii – but crossed it off the list February 2011.”
Favourite pastime between draws?
“Listening to music and visiting with people. Also we usually spend some time talking about our pros and cons of the previous game, i.e. what we did well and what we could improve on.”
One thing most people don’t know about you?
“That I love most water sports. I like fishing, kneeboarding, surfing; love snorkeling, rowing; would love to try kite boarding. I am not a big fan of tubing or wakeboarding. I have tried water skiing but failed miserably.”
The Albert A. Ruel Road to Blindness
A 21 year old man stood on the beach at the Sproat Lake Provincial Park with friends early in May of 1977, and upon gazing across the lake found the Gulf Oil sign missing from the dock-side filling station there. When this fact was shared with his companions they glanced at him with puzzled looks and said, “No Albert, the sign is still there”.
That was the beginning of a road through confusion, anger, isolation, loneliness and discovery for me. It all began with a visit to a local Optometrist who could see that my vision wasn’t right, but that corrective lenses wouldn’t help. He then referred me to a General Practitioner, where I received a clean bill of health and an additional referral. This time to an Ophthalmologist. Immediately upon peering through the dilated pupils, Dr. McKerricher was able to see the problem, Retinal Vasculitis.
Now, you would think that all would start to improve at this point, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. You see, CNIB, from 1918 until 1985 only served the needs of people who were “Legally Blind”, a level of vision loss I wouldn’t reach until November of 1979. The words of Dr. McKerricher still echo in my mind today, “Albert, I don’t know what has caused this and nothing we’ve tried is helping to stop it, and you’re not blind enough for me to refer you to CNIB”!
In the middle of this transition from 20/20 vision to “Legally Blind” came the Motor Vehicle Branch and it’s rules of the road. On August 3, 1978 I drove a car for the last time as my vision had reached the level at which operating a motor vehicle became too dangerous, further intensifying feelings of fear, isolation and anger. Sadly, through this period the only available guidance and support was through family and friends, but not the experienced professionals I needed at the time. Although these support systems are critically important they can often be smothering and facilitating, rather than encouraging and supportive.
With gratitude, and some trepidation I finally was able to access CNIB services in November of 1979, and the world opened up then. There I was able to meet other blind people and receive the daily living and mobility skills required to live independently in this sighted world. I learned elementary braille and began to discover technology as necessary tools of independence.
Thankfully, in 1985 CNIB’s National Board altered the course of service to visually impaired Canadians forever. They added a third prong to their Mission Statement, “To promote sight enhancement services”. This opened the door to all Canadians who were beginning to lose sight, as well as those who had a fear of vision loss to access the full range of CNIB Support and Rehabilitation Services. So now, whether it’s someone’s Mother who is experiencing Macular Degeneration, or an Uncle experiencing the affects of Glaucoma, all have the ability to seek information, guidance and support as all involved deal with the fear and anxiety that accompanies such life altering experiences.
With the help of professional Rehabilitation Workers and Employment Counselors I was able to continue traveling independently within my own community, and even more remarkably anywhere in the world I desired to go. I managed to attend College in Nanaimo and New Westminster, as well as traveling to the Mayo Clinic and to doctor’s appointments in Nanaimo and Vancouver without assistance. All of this while living with some usable vision, but not yet needing a white cane for travel.
During the mid 1980’s I was a stay-at-home Dad and did all that was required of that challenging work, from changing diapers to preparing meals, and from cutting the grass to maintaining our home. I even took a woodworking course through Alberni’s Adult Education program and built and restored several pieces of furniture. Of course the 1958 Chevy Impala in the garage was my pride and joy, and I devised ways to do much of the work it required.
I also joined and participated in many community activities, like the local Car Club, and a disability support group that catered to the needs of people with many different disabilities. Of course, continued participation in family life remained of critical importance through this period.
In 1989 a secondary condition began to extinguish the vision that remained, which set into motion a new stream of professional rehabilitation services and supports. By the spring of 1990 Glaucoma had turned out the lights completely, and the darkness I had feared so desperately was upon me. Strangely though, I found this to be a great relief rather than the tragedy I had imagined it would be.
Through several professional rehabilitation sessions, and by joining peer mentoring and advocacy groups I was able to come to terms with this strange feeling, and to learn additional skills and strategies for living with no visual cues of the world around me. This is also about the time that I decided to explore CNIB as an employer, and to see if I could provide the sort of guidance and support to others that had been my pleasure to receive. Those 14 years were a wonderful experience of ongoing discovery for me, as teaching may be the best way to solidify one’s own learning. In other words, those we assist through this transition in turn help us all as we develop best practices and improved service.
Following a 14 year career with CNIB I also served the blind community as the first National Equality Director employed by the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians (AEBC), and as a Basic Computer Literacy Trainer with the Canadian Council of the Blind (CCB). Most recently I have enjoyed coordinating the CCB’s newly launched Get Together with Technology Program in Western Canada, which brings to the fore my passion for assistive technology and the power of peer mentoring.
Without sight I have continued to travel far and wide, with trips to Conventions of and for the Blind in Anaheim California and Melbourne Australia, as well as to many events and activities in Toronto and Vancouver. Of course my work has taken me to many communities throughout Western Canada, and most particularly nearly all regions of BC and on Vancouver Island. None of which would have been possible without the services and support of organizations like CCB, AEBC and CNIB.
For most people blindness generates a fear of extended movement, both within one’s home and community, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Independence comes from personal desire and increased skill. Many community organizations can assist with both through their mentoring and skill development programs. I remember always that life has little to do with what happens to me and 100% what I do about/with it. There is a quote I like to use from the National Federation of the Blind in the USA, “With adequate skill development and opportunity blindness can be reduced to the level of a nuisance”, and nothing could be closer to the truth.
Helen Keller said many years ago, “There is nothing more tragic than someone who has sight, but no vision”. She also challenged the Lions Clubs of the world to become the “Knights of the Blind, and to take up the crusade against darkness”. I too joined a Lions Club in 1992 and continue to work on the crusade that Helen Keller began in the 1920-s.
View all posts by Albert Ruel