SuccessAbility: Theresa Herbert

Theresa HebertI was born in a small town in northern New Brunswick.  I was premature, and was placed in an incubator.  The light setting was too strong and it burned my retina, so I have been blind pretty much since birth.   Nowadays these things do not happen.

During the first few years of my life I was unable to participate in regular childhood activities because I could not see to run, see toys to play with, and was often at home with the adults, so I grew up very fast.

I attended the School for the Blind in Halifax.   There I learned daily life skills, academic, social and musical skills – piano and singing which I still love to do when I can!  I worked for a little bit as a liaison between the teachers and the younger children at the school whose first language was French, until they could speak better English.  I enjoyed that experience.

After graduation, I returned to my home town. I took various courses and as a life learner, I enjoyed seminars on self-development.

I worked in two day cares.  I would create stories to tell the younger children, and involve them in the story.   I also taught myself how to take a child’s temperature through feel, as I could not read the thermometer!

My last employment was in adult education. Anyone, including the general public, those with low-vision or the non-sighted, could attend classes to learn braille or computer with voice over.  This was grade two braille – shorthand style. I would make an exercise list of words in braille then after they learned the words, I would give them sentences to write using the words.  I developed a pre-exercise braille for those who were just starting.  If I wanted to achieve success for the students, I would work out my own strategies for teaching them!

You may wonder if I can see colours. If something is green, I know that the grass is green, so I imagine the texture and the colour of the grass, same for red for an apple, although I don’t really see the colour – I associate the colour with something that is part of my everyday life.  For orange – I think of an orange; for purple I  think of spirituality. Chakras have different colours – purple is a spiritual colour, so I associate it with something really nice.

In some dreams I supposedly see, but I don’t truly see because the brain can’t give you something you have never seen. Let’s say you are at the corner of the street – a sighted person would run up to greet you.  In my dream, someone would say “Louise is at the corner”, and will guide me to you ,or my dog will guide me, so when I am holding the harness in my dream, I am not seeing, but if I go towards you then I know that I can see in my dream.  It is hard to describe.

Before I went to get my first guide dog, lots of folks told me not to bother.  I had people to guide me and I would tease them saying “You are my dog for today” ,  or they would ask “Can I be your dog for the day?” .     I realized that if I got a dog I would not need to depend on people so much.  I called the school (MIRA Foundation – a school for training guide dogs) and they told me I had to show how I could walk with a white cane first!  I was no good with the cane, so I went to the school and now I am on my fourth dog, so I must enjoy dogs!

The difference with having a guide dog is that I am more independent – take the harness and off we go!   Streets should be made much more accessible, then I would be able to go all over the place.  However, many streets and sidewalks are not friendly towards blind people.   I can find my way around with help of the dog – finding traffic lights and curbs to cross busy roads and so on.

I am now retired and volunteer in the community. I have helped raise over $50,000 for the MIRA Foundation.   I enjoy socializing.  I use the latest technology for the non-sighted in order to communicate with friends all across Canada.

My message for the world is that if you ever meet me, be comfortable enough to come over and have a chat!

    A la prochaine!

SuccessAbility: Alvin Law

In the early 1960’s, over 13,000 babies around the world were born with deformities as a direct result of Thalidomide – a drug prescribed to relieve morning sickness. Alvin Law was one of them. In his case, just a couple of the tiny pills were enough to cause him to be born without arms.

Facing what they thought was a hopeless situation, Alvin’s birth family courageously gave him up for adoption. They hoped and prayed that their sickly, deformed newborn would somehow find a family more capable of caring for his needs. Luckily, their prayers were answered.

Hilda Law was a fifty-five year old foster mother who, along with her husband, Jack, took in neglected and abused children. They loved and encouraged them back from their hopelessness and, through social service programs, sent them to couples yearning for adoptions. They were truly special people.

One day in 1960, the most disturbing case they had ever seen was presented to them – Alvin. They were warned he’d never possess any quality of life and would likely need to be institutionalized.

Not only did Hilda nurse him back to health, but her intuition told her that lurking inside this impossible scenario was… hope. Through the Law’s faith, dedication and infinite belief, little Alvin learned to use his feet for hands. Suddenly, his world opened up.

Alvin attended regular schools at a time when handicapped children were relegated to institutions or, at best, schools that segregated them from the ‘normal’ students. He was blessed to have remarkable teachers who recognized his potential, and worked with the Law family to encourage his abilities.

Life took a turn for the amazing when Alvin discovered his musical ability and he joined the school band, playing trombone, drums and piano. Within an impossibly short time, he became an award winning musician and graduated from high school with honors. He then graduated, again with honors, from college… and he hasn’t slowed down since.

“You can’t hide from life. You’re going to have obstacles show up. I know how to teach people to get past theirs. After all, there’s no magic pill you can swallow – there’s just you. In a quick-fix society, we need long-term strategies. I didn’t just discover this stuff overnight.”

Alvin Law has been presenting his compelling life story to groups across Canada, the United States and around the globe since 1981. He is a trained broadcaster, fundraiser and musician. He has also worked for non-profit groups, in advertising and public relations, the civil service, and has even run for public office (unsuccessfully, but he got over it).

Alvin has played a direct role in raising over $175,000,000 for charity. He’s also dabbled in acting, playing a role in Harmony Korine’s quirky creative film Julien: Donkey Boy and, in a life highlight, played an armless preacher in an episode of the hit television series The X-Files.

He has appeared on countless telethons (well over 100 since 1976) and media features, and has been the subject of two award winning television documentaries. The first, Alvin, His Best Foot Forward, was shown across Canada in 1978. The second, Broken Promises, focused on the plight of Canada’s Thalidomide victims and after its Canadian showing was seen on American Public Broadcasting’s Frontline. Re-named Extraordinary People, it was nominated for an Emmy Award. Alvin has appeared on The Joan Rivers Show, CBS’s How’d They Do That, CBC’s What On Earth and ABC’s Frontrunners. Their segment about Alvin won an Emmy Award.

Alvin formed AJL Communications Ltd. in 1988 and has since brought his Attitude Revolution to over 2 million people (and counting) on five continents around the world. He’s earned over One Million Miles with Air Canada, and has the highest tier membership at both Hertz and Avis (yep… he drives!)

He has earned the designation of Certified Speaking Professional (CSP), an honour possessed by less than ten percent of professional speakers worldwide. In 2009, Alvin was inducted into the Canadian Association of Speakers (CAPS) Hall of Fame.

He shares his life with his wife and business partner, Darlene; his adult son, Vance; Raymond, the dog; and Trixie, the cat. They all live in beautiful Calgary, Alberta, Canada.