When Heidi Propp was young, she always thought she lived a normal life.
Blind since birth after her optic nerves never formed, Propp relied heavily on her parents for most things. Her parents cooked, did her laundry and drove her around, or she used HandyDart to get from one place to another.
In grade school it never seemed odd, but it wasn’t until she graduated from high school and enrolled at the University of Victoria that Propp slowly began to realize she wasn’t like her peers.
“I did not feel good about it [relying on her parents] at all. I wanted to have a normal life just like everybody else … that was a really difficult struggle,” said Propp, who grew up in Langford and lived there for more than 20 years.
“Though it wasn’t my parents’ fault, I felt like my dependence on them held me back socially and professionally.”
In an effort to gain back her independence, Propp was of the first participants to enroll in the Pacific Training Centre for the Blind’s blind people in charge program in 2014, which recently won an award. The only one of its kind in Western Canada, the program has served more than 40 blind, deaf-blind and low-vision adults through a non-traditional model of instruction where blind people are the teachers, planners, directors and administrators.
As part of the two-year program, Propp learned skills such as how to cook, travel, do laundry, take B.C. Transit and picked up financial skills that taught her how to take care of herself.
Now, the 39-year-old has moved out on her own for the first time with a roommate who also went through the program – which was an experience she called “the best day of her life.” She takes transit daily and has become passionate about food, cooking everything from soups and salads to desserts and chilis to pastas and focaccia bread.
Propp also works as a web accessibility consultant where she helps businesses and non-profits make their websites easy to use for blind people and people with disabilities such as hearing and motor-impairments. “[The program] was definitely a life-changer. I didn’t really feel like an equal person until I gained those skills,” Propp said. “I wouldn’t be where I am now without the program.”
The centre was recently honoured with a top award called the Great-West Life, London Life and Canada Life Literacy Innovation Award from ABC Life Literacy Canada. As part of the award, the centre will receive $20,000 for its blind people in charge program. “I was just stunned,” said Elizabeth Lalonde, executive director and founder of the centre on Fort Street. “It just means a lot to us because we worked pretty hard over the last four years getting the centre up and running and slowly growing … [The award] has given us recognition in the community. ” Lalonde added the funding will be used to focus on the braille literacy part of the program.