Coping with blindness
"We can still talk and we can still hear but people don't understand that we can still work," says a Baker Lake woman who still wants to work despite disability

by Glen Korstrom
Northern News Services

BAKER LAKE (Mar 16/98) - As Vera Pudnak walks across the wall-to-wall carpeting of her Baker Lake home, she remembers a time when she was able to do her own vacuuming.

Now blind and with polio invading her right arm, she needs help.

In 1992 Pudnak's sight began to blur. The fuzziness worsened until 1996, when she became totally blind.

For a while she took eye drops, which, for whatever reason she soon was unable to get in her community. "There were no more eye drops," she says. "I was begging the nurses and they said, 'Maybe tomorrow, maybe tomorrow.'"

A drug and alcohol counsellor before 1992, Pudnak sometimes wonders whether the lack of eyedrops contributed to the onset of her blindness.

But more importantly, she wants to stress that blind people can still work.

"We can still talk and we can still hear, but people don't understand that we can still work," she says. "I still get a lot of calls and I still talk to people and I can't understand why I can't work. I really enjoyed my job."

Pudnak is seeing doctor in Winnipeg who still prescribes eye drops. Without them her eyes hurt from dryness.

She lives with her husband John, son Richard, 21, and daughter Valerie, 15. Her 29-year-old son Keith, who also lives in Baker Lake, regularly escorts her around town.

But Pudnak says she still needs volunteers to give her daughter a break from the vacuuming, dusting, laundry and cooking.

She spends time shopping, talking with friends and attending the meetings of two education committees -- one for cultural inclusion and one for discipline.

Pudnak is not alone. Her reality is mirrored in most NWT communities.

On March 7, a group of 15 Northerners met in Yellowknife to mark the 20th anniversary of the NWT Council for Disabled Persons and share their stories.

They came from Pangnirtung, Rankin Inlet, Pelly Bay, Gjoa Haven, Fort Smith, Hay River and Inuvik.

The gathering's theme was "20/20" to indicate that though its history is 20 years deep, there are still goals to met and a vision for 20 years into the future.

Lydia Bardak, the council's executive director, says there is still much room for improvement in training teachers to deal with students with disabilities.

"An extra adult is not much more than a highly paid babysitter if they do not have training," she says.

"We have raised the issue with the Department of Education and we continue to. It's just too big and too important.