Blind Beginnings’ founder, Shawn Marsolais, was born with a degenerative eye condition that caused her vision to deteriorate throughout her childhood. Since the age of 18, Shawn has had less than two percent of her vision, yet she lives a very full life. In 2004, she competed in the Paralympics, in 2012 she obtained her Masters Degree, and in 2014 she became a parent.
Through both her personal and professional experience, Shawn identified a significant gap in services for blind and partially sighted children in BC. In 2008, she founded Blind Beginnings with the vision of helping blind and partially sighted children reach their full potential.
Part of Shawn’s inspiration came from Daniel Kish, a totally blind man who taught himself to ride a bike and teaches others to do the same. Founder and Executive Director of World Access for the Blind, Daniel is one of the first totally blind Orientation & Mobility Instructors, the leading expert in echolocation, and he travels the world promoting a ‘no limits’ philosophy regarding the possibilities and potential for blind people.
Shawn knew that she wanted to start a similar non-profit organization in BC that would share Daniel’s ‘no limits’ philosophy, but focus on services and support for children and youth who are blind or partially sighted and their families. Shawn’s dream is that BC’s 750+ children who are blind or partially sighted will gain the necessary skills and support to reach their full potential.
Meet our Founding Board
Shawn was born with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a rare eye condition that caused her vision to deteriorate throughout her childhood. Since the age of 18, she has had less than two percent of her vision and has fully adjusted to life as a blind person.
After obtaining a Bachelor of Arts from the University of British Columbia in 1999, Shawn completed an Internship at Dorton House School for the Blind in England where she assisted blind and visually impaired children in the classroom. Upon her return to Canada, Shawn worked for CNIB first as a Career & Employment Counsellor and later as a Counsellor/Coordinator for Children & Youth Services. In this role, Shawn coordinated workshops and camps for children, youth, and families, educated child-care professionals on strategies for working with blind children, and offered ongoing resources and support to families throughout BC. Shawn also has extensive Board experience through her involvement on several Non-profit Boards including Access for Sight Impaired Consumers, BC Blind Sports & Recreation Association, Canadian Blind Sports Association, and Braille Literacy Canada.
Shawn has worked tirelessly to support families across British Columbia by networking families, providing social and experiential learning for children who are blind or visually impaired, and inspiring blind children and their parents as to the capabilities of people who are blind. Shawn is a role model to the families she works with; she competed at the 2004 Paralympic Games, she completed a Masters in Vocational Rehabilitation Counseling in 2012, she has successfully managed Blind Beginnings since 2008, and she has recently become a parent.
Fraser Loch has been working for a worldwide high technology company as a software engineer since 1998. He is a father of two; his second son was born with Leber’s Congenital Amaurosis (LCA) causing him to be blind. Originally born in Scotland, Fraser and his family moved to Vancouver, BC in 2005 and the quality of services for blind children in BC quickly became an important focus for his family.
After attending a Daniel Kish family workshop hosted by Shawn Marsolais, Fraser’s personal view of blindness changed. Listening to Daniel’s long and eloquent talk on the dangers of overusing Sighted Guide with blind children Fraser knew that his philosophy matched Daniel’s exactly. This new perspective paired with the strained reaction of some of the vision professionals to this idea, brought home the need to get involved in helping spread a no limits philosophy, provide positive information to parents, and create a family driven organization where parents beliefs would be valued. When Shawn decided to push forward with a new non-profit organization,
Fraser saw the need and immediately offered to help in any way he could.
Fraser believes in the importance of adding echolocation to a child’s repertoire of mobility skills. This belief was reinforced in a very personal way through the comments of Professor Gordon Dutton the Ophthalmologist who initially diagnosed his son Ethan in 2005 when he stated in an interview with the Times Newspaper:
“It’s very exciting,” said Dutton, of the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Glasgow. “I have seen echolocation being used—it’s quite stunning. It has been demonstrated to me that it absolutely works. Of course there will be skepticism and doubt but the benefits are without question. It will make a massive difference to the lives of blind and visually impaired people.” Reference: Times On-line(UK)
Fraser has complete confidence that Blind Beginnings can drive a fundamental change in the way that services are offered to blind children and their families and he is dedicated to seeing that dream become a reality.
Peter Moroney is Director of the Division of Applied Technology & Professional Programs with Continuing Studies, University of British Columbia. He holds a master’s degree in political science from the University of Western Ontario, and a bachelor’s degree in political science and sociology also from the University of Western Ontario. Since 1990, Peter has held a number of management and leadership roles in university continuing education. His areas of interest include continuing education, Internet technologies, entrepreneurship, economic and social trends, and organizational effectiveness. He is also actively involved in the development and commercialization of web-based services.
Peter resides in Vancouver, British Columbia with his family and was introduced to the world of blindness with the birth of his daughter, Alethea. Peter was fortunate to meet Shawn Marsolais within the first week after Alethea’s birth, and it was Shawn’s positive and determined attitude that convinced him that there was no reason Alethea could not have a rich and fulfilling life. Meeting and discussing issues with other families became a priority for Peter and his wife, Winnie. They found that attitudes and expectations of others were largely based on early experiences—whether positive or negative. They became convinced that even with the support of existing health and social services, there needed to be more proactive support for families to help them develop the attitudes and competencies that would give them confidence in the future—not only for their blind or visually impaired child, but for themselves, siblings, extended families, and the broader community.
Peter and his wife support Shawn Marsolais in the founding of Blind Beginnings because of her vision, energy and demonstrated commitment to the support of blind and visually impaired children and their families.
Bridie Cotter is co-owner of a small children’s specialty store nestled in the beautiful Rocky Mountains of Eastern BC. Opening this business was a natural extension of her many years working with children and families and she enjoys the opportunity it provides to stay connected to and involved with the community.
Bridie was working as a professional in early intervention in 2005, when her daughter Mira was born without sight. Bridie believes whole heartedly in the value of intensive early intervention, and that the Government’s promise of “Success by Six” is one for which they should be held accountable. Bridie’s family’s experience has been that the program in place for blind and visually impaired pre-schoolers is not receiving adequate funding to meet the needs of families. She believes that for children to reach their full potential there needs to be a Provincially accessible, cohesive and appropriately funded no-limits model of intensive intervention driven by families with support available on a weekly basis.
Over the last three years Bridie has had several opportunities to connect with other families and professionals in the field who share her vision. She feels particularly fortunate to have met Shawn, who, while in her role as Youth and Family Counsellor with CNIB, distinguished herself as a person who deeply believes that a change in the level of service to families in the visual impairment community is essential and parents within that community need to have their voice be heard. When Shawn began plans for Blind Beginnings, Bridie saw the society as a path to empowerment for families with blind or visually impaired children in our province and knew she had to be involved.
Ultimately, Bridie believes that the ability for a child to meet their full potential should not be hindered by limited thinking or inadequate support. She is confident that through the work of Blind Beginnings, the promotion of their no limits philosophy, and their work with like minded professionals, children who are blind or visually impaired and their families will have their needs met. She is wholly dedicated to seeing this non-profit flourish and our children blossom along with it.
Sharon DiSanto is a Registered Social Worker and is currently employed by a family driven organization called Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network. Sharon has twenty years experience working with family-driven organizations either as an Executive Director, board member or staff member. She has seen first hand that family leadership provides expertise, direction and commitment with one focus alone—professional and personal recognition of the capacity of the individuals the society serves and providing resources to continually build on that capacity.
Sharon’s interest in Blind Beginnings is twofold: it is family-driven and she has family members who are blind.