Adjusting to Life Without Sight

Published Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Sixteen years ago Maria Kovacs was traveling around Europe with her son. After traveling for three months through Portugal, Spain, and France, Maria contracted Salmonella poisoning from a green salad.

Maria was unable to fly home as her blood pressure was extremely low and her kidneys were in stress, so she waited in a foreign hospital for seventeen days until she was able to return.

Once Maria returned she begin to experience problems with her vision. The world lost all colour and then her eyesight failed completely. Maria was sent to the Maryland Naval Hospital where her eyes were thoroughly tested. Maria said that she was sent to Maryland because “that is where people go when no one knows what to do”.

What was supposed to be a three day visit extended to six weeks. While home for the Christmas holidays Maria’s retina detached and she was admitted to Vancouver General Hospital. The doctors were able to reattach her retina and her sight began to return. Then a few weeks later her retina began to bleed and her sight was lost, this time permanently.

Maria had to learn to adjust to a life without sight. The Canadian National Institute for the Blind helped Maria adapt to her sudden blindness. Maria learned to listen to the communication of sound waves. She explains that “as long as the sound waves have something to bounce off of, a wall or a pole, I am able to understand my surroundings”.

Maria trained for eighteen months to learn to use a cane. The training helped Maria understand surroundings and how to listen to what the various surfaces and areas were communicating to her feet. After training to use the cane Maria went to California for a training course to learn to use a guide dog.

Maria was forced to adapt to a situation that was sudden, permanent, and completely unexpected. She experiences obstacles daily and relies on the help of others, especially her guide dog Gwyneth.

Since Maria has had to adapt and deal with daily barriers in the community she felt that it was important for her to join the Municipal Advisory Committee on Accessibility Issues (MACAI), a local committee that reports on accessibility issues in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows. Maria brings her perspective to those who have no experience living with blindness and the associated barriers. She hopes to help Maple Ridge become an inclusive, barrier-free community.

Maria is currently working on the Third Annual Accessibility Awards, which MACAI is holding during Access Awareness Week (June 28th – May 4th). The awards are a way of thanking those who incorporate barrier-free concepts.

Two years ago Maria nominated the Salvation Army Caring Place for the Volunteer Services category, which they won. Salvation Army was the first organization to embrace Maria as a volunteer. They helped her to realize that there were volunteer opportunities open to her and she remembers them with fondness for being the first place to focus on her abilities.

Maria is looking forward to hearing the nominations of other community members, and to find out about their stories of accessibility.

To nominate a person, organization, or business in one of the four categories (Architectural Access, Recreation and Leisure, Volunteer Services, and/or Customer Service) drop off an explanation as to why they should win, with your contact information, care of Petra Rutten at the Maple Ridge Leisure Centre. The nomination deadline is May 15th.

Everyone is welcome to attend the awards ceremony, which iscurrently scheduled for Monday, May 29th. For more information call Maria at (604) 467•8186