At an early age, I was told I had a genetic disorder of the retina called retinitis pigmentosa and that I would likely lose most or all my eyesight as I got older. At the age of about seven I remember sitting on the bus watching a blind man find a seat using a white cane and thought. This is terrible, I don’t want to be that man when I grow up. It filled me with uncertainty and fear about blindness. Having become that blind man and looking back the uncertainty and fear were misplaced. Blindness requires you to move from a vision focused world to a multi-sensory world. The uncertainty and fear are the barriers built in our minds and society that stop us from participating to the fullest of our ability.
The uncertainty and fear that were instilled in me had to go before I could move forward. And this didn’t start happening until my mid thirties. Finally accepting my eyesight loss and embracing what the world holds, by taking chances and testing limits. At age 34 I enrolled in a financial services program for disabled persons sponsored by the Canadian Bankers Association, Government of Canada and Douglas College. On graduation, I joined TD Bank. Starting as a teller and then entering the management training program transitioning into a 20-year career, eight years in the regional office as part of the Pacific Region Management Team responsible for customer relations and customer experience.
Shortly, after joining TD, I attended a blind advocacy organization’s National Convention in Chicago. While listening to a speech by Dr. Kenneth Jernigan. Recognized as one of the great civil rights leaders in America. I was inspired to take-action in creating a society that respects and values the contribution of the blind. During the Convention, a group of like minded Canadians joined together committed to advocating for equality of the blind in Canada and I was elected to the Board of Directors and / Treasurer of the newly formed charity. Now known as the Alliance for the Equality of Blind Canadians. The following year we assisted over 100 blind Canadians to attend the National Federation of the Blind Convention to meet, network and learn from the over 3,000 blind people in attendance.
The lessons learned and the people I have collaborated with in the blind and disabled communities over the last 23 years. Continue to build my passion in advocating for improved accessibility and employment for disabled persons. Through changing attitudes and building a culture that promotes the abilities of all Canadians.
In 2006, participating in a peer employment support group. The facilitator asked if I would be interested in joining Eye of the Dragon a blind dragon boat team. Having developed a spare tire around my middle. It seemed like a good idea in theory, but I was nervous of failing. If I had listened to my fears. I would not have met my wife Karyn. Been blessed with experiencing the birth of our two sons, wonderful team mates and a sporting community that valued our contributions and ability to compete equally. In 2013, we became the Canadian National Para Champions and in 2014 the World Para Champions in the 500m and 2,000m racing distances.
2015 was a time to stop and take a good look around. At the end of 2013 my department in Vancouver had been centralized to Toronto and my position redundant. TD offered a generous package and it permitted the financial freedom to assess what I wanted to accomplish next. Banking had been a great training ground in building knowledge in business, finance and the customer experience. But it was never my passion. Whereas, my volunteerism in the community has rewarded me many times over.
The seeds for creating Gateway began in 2015. While exploring a technology that could enhance the independent travel experience for blind and partially sighted persons. Using Bluetooth low energy (BLE) ibeacons, apple code and smartphones to help identify buses through a beeping sound. It was interesting but lacked the user experience – no wow factor. Then I landed on the Wayfindr project happening in partnership with Transport for London in the United Kingdom.
My first thought was wow, this is amazing. My second thought was we need to get this technology here. My third thought was this is a fantastic opportunity for blind and disabled people to be employed and trained in a technology industry we can help grow locally, regionally and internationally. That has been enough thinking to keep me busy for the last two years.
Drawing on my experience as a small business owner, collaborating with Product and Department Teams within the corporate office of TD and my authentic experience as a blind person / advocate. Provided me with the perspective, passion and resources to work with a dynamic team of like-minded colleagues and partners to enhance mobility, employment and social independence for blind and disabled persons. Join us in creating real change for all Canadians.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or just to discuss experiences and opportunities.
Gateway Navigation CCC Limited
North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada