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Madelyn sits in bed with her small puppy and laptop on her lap. She is participating in a Zoom call.

Youth Zoom Hangout Sessions Inspire Madelyn

Thanks to CNIB Foundation's Youth Hangout Zoom sessions, Madelyn Holman now has other youth who are blind or partially sighted she can relate to.

"I like that there are other kids that I can talk to and see and hear what they can see and can't see," said the ten-year old Moosomin resident.

She is the only child at her school with sight loss and has never felt like she had anyone that could relate to with her experience, until now.

"I thought it would be beneficial for her to connect with other children her age with vision conditions. I was hoping she would be encouraged by the group and be able to relate with others that may experience struggles as well," said Madelyn's mother Melissa.

Melissa learned from her grandmother who is registered with CNIB that these sessions were taking place. She asked Madelyn if she wanted to participate. She said, yes, so Melissa registered Madelyn right away. Because this group is virtual, Madelyn was able to participate as she resides in Moosomin.

"She couldn't wait for the first session and counted down the nights. Madelyn was so shy during that session and wouldn't speak. She wouldn't let me leave the room, so I sat with her for the first 20 minutes. After the meeting ended, Madelyn was beaming, and excited to tell me everything."

The hangout sessions are run virtually through the Zoom app and were the brainchild of Ashley Nemeth. The group meets every Friday for an hour and unites youth who are blind or partially sighted from all across Canada.

"The sessions connect youth who are blind or partially sighted in social, nonformal way.  I knew blind youth would be facing different challenges like accessibility with online schooling and they would need a stronger sense of connection to be successful."

In the sessions, Ashley talks about her own experience with sight loss and how she has learned to adapt and participate fully in life. She also brings guests into share their vision loss journey so the youth can ask questions. The group also discusses every-day topics like video games but has some serious discussions on subjects like bullying.

"The youth asked a lot of questions of me during that session like, were you bullied and how did you deal with it and overcome it," said Ashley.

Madelyn could relate. "Sometimes when I take my books home from school kids laugh or say something because they are so big." Due to her eye condition, bilateral amblyopia and hyperopic astigmatism she needs 24-point-font to read, some of her text books are two feet high.

Ashley also, shared how she does every-day tasks, works and snowboards. Madelyn became inspired.  Ashley became her hero.  

She said “Mom, you should see how Ashley does this and that," said Melissa. "She was also really excited that Ashley golfed."

Madelyn is already following in Ashley's footsteps and is not letting her sight loss stop her from participating in life. Madelyn is very active and is involved in many activities, some which include hockey, softball, golf and piano lessons. Madelyn will make minor adaptations such as taping her hockey stick with bright colored tape so she can see the black puck better. The Youth Hangout Zoom sessions are helping her to see that there are endless activities that are possible with adaptations and she has gained the confidence to speak up in meetings.

"I was surprised how the shy youth really came out of the background after a couple of sessions and spoke up. You could see their self confidence grow," said Ashley.

Since being involved in these sessions, Melissa’s hope is that “ Madelyn will be more encouraged to take more of an initiative or interest in finding out how to do things differently or actually do them and not say, I can't do it or I am not doing it."

"I think it helps her relate that her sight loss isn't something that needs to be hidden. It's okay to own it and it is possible to find ways to do whatever you want."