In the fight for sight

CNIB Night Steps fundraiser takes place Sept. 26 at Holland Park.

by Alexandra Korinowsky

Cherise McGee may see the world in black, white and shades of grey, but she lives in vibrant technicolour.

The 34-year-old entrepreneur and mother of three from Langley hasn’t let vision loss get in the way of pursuing her dreams.

Following a frustratingly long diagnostic process as a child, McGee discovered that she has a rare eye condition called achromatopsia that leads to low vision, severe sensitivity to light and the inability to perceive colour.

“It took a long time to figure out what was going on with me since my condition is very rare,” said McGee. “It was exasperating in the beginning because no one was listening to me about what I needed. But, by the time I was 14, I found my voice and started to self-advocate.”

Once McGee found her voice, she hasn’t stopped using it.

Now, McGee volunteers with Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) to build awareness and raise funds in support of vital vision rehabilitation services for community members living with blindness or partial sight.

“School was challenging for me because I couldn’t see the blackboard, which put me behind in math and spelling,” said McGee. “Learning to self-advocate was necessary to my academic success, but it’s hard to be perceived as different. I spent a long time pretending that I didn’t have special needs in order to fit in, and to this day I regret doing that.”

McGee eventually came to CNIB to find some tools and assistive devices that leveled the playing field for her academics. An optical device called a monocular allows Cherise to see what others can up to 100 feet away, and she is an avid user of accessible technologies like the iPhone.

CNIB helped McGee obtain funding to offset some of the costs associated with acquiring assistive devices, and she credits this assistance for completing her post-secondary education and starting her own emergency preparedness business that she runs with her husband, Dylan.

In addition to being a busy mom and professional, McGee’s next aspiration is to mentor teens with disabilities.

“I know what it’s like to feel lost at that age,” said McGee. “But, I also know from first-hand experience that it’s possible to overcome the challenges of having a disability – set, and achieve goals.”

McGee recently completed another bucket list goal when she finished the notoriously difficult Tough Mudder obstacle course in Whistler.

“In some ways I overcompensate,” said McGee with a laugh, “but I think my whole family is better off keeping busy and jumping into every opportunity we can to challenge ourselves.”

So, when McGee learned about CNIB Night Steps, a 5km fundraising walk under the stars in Surrey on Sept. 26, she leapt at the chance to form a team and raise funds for a cause very close to her heart.

“How we experience life comes down to choice,” said McGee. “I live by the rule that it’s my choice to wake up and feel sorry for myself or not, and I choose happiness.”

To help members of your community who are blind or partially sighted achieve their dreams, register for CNIB Night Steps today at www.cnibnightsteps.ca

The walk takes place at Holland Park at King George Boulevard and Old Yale Road. Check-in is at 4 p.m. For more details, call 1-844-810-5408 or email nightsteps.bc@cnib.ca