Vital People: Pacific Training Centre launches blindness immersion program

Vital People: Pacific Training Centre launches blindness immersion program

Elizabeth Lalonde doesn’t let anything stop her from living the life she wants to live.

“The biggest misconception people have about blind people is that we can’t do anything,” laughs Elizabeth, while out for a walk at Beaver Lake.

Elizabeth started the Pacific Training Centre — a non-profit that provides blindness skills training for adults — more than a decade ago.

“I’ve been blind my whole life, and I was always aware that there wasn’t a lot of really positive influences with people who are low vision or people who are blind in Canada,” Elizabeth says.

The Centre recently moved to Bowen Island to merge with its partner organization, the Camp Bowen Society, which runs blindness independence camps for youth and launched an innovative blindness immersion program.

“We’re actually groundbreaking in Canada,” Elizabeth explains. “So what we do is we bring blind people together from all over Canada to take a full 10-month program.”

The program teaches vital skills like braille, how to use a talking computer, cane travel and important life skills like cooking, using a stove and looking after a home.

“I think this camp is so amazing!” says student Tybris Renaerts, who wants to be a professional baker. “I’m learning a lot of new things. I really love travel and cooking are my most favourite classes.”

All of the instructors are also blind, which is unusual and very beneficial.

“It’s more reassuring to learn from someone who has probably encountered lots of the same issues I have,” student Matthew Alvernaz says. “The way my parents tried to teach me wasn’t necessarily how I learn.”

The students who started in the fall are already learning life-changing skills.

“It means I’ll be able to do things on my own without little to no assistance and I can be free,” Tybris explains.

“Knowing that we’re making a difference in blind people’s lives is what keeps me going because it’s not easy to run a non-profit on a shoestring budget,” Elizabeth adds.

Elizabeth is now hoping to be able to buy a property or have one donated since their rent costs are high so that more students can be helped.

“Seeing their confidence and feeling that magic that happens when people learn how to take care of themselves and take charge of their own lives is really amazing,” she says.

Tess van StraatenTess van Straaten

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