She sees her future clearly
She arrived at Queen’s with an already impressive list of accomplishments to her credit. Once here, she threw herself into campus life and her studies. She’s brilliant, beautiful, fearless – and, oh yes, she also happens to be blind.
Roisin Hartnett, ConEd’11, isn’t the first blind person to study at Queen’s, nor will she be the first to graduate. However, she was probably the first to arrive on campus with so many accomplishments already to her credit.
Roisin (an Irish name that’s pronounced Row-sheen) came to Queen’s partly because of the excellent Disability Services available here and partly because of the scholarships the Admissions Office staff offered when they saw her 98 per cent average and impressive credentials.
At age 13, Roisin became the first blind page at the Ontario provincial assembly, where she memorized the names and seating placement of the 103 members in her first hour on the job. Because of the publicity generated by her success, Roisin was offered a spot at Appleby College, an elite prep school in her hometown of Oakville, ON.
When she graduated in 2007 with that aforementioned lofty grade average, it won her three prestigious scholarships: the Canadian National Millennium, Bank of Montreal and the Terry Fox.
Now in her third year at Queen’s, besides carrying a full-time course load, Roisin sits on Queen’s Accessibility Committee, heads the French Department’s Student Council, serves as director of the AMS Peer Support Centre, and has worked on a variety of other AMS committees.
Her list of activities and interests is a long one, but that’s not what makes Roisin an everyday hero. It’s her courage, her love of life, her positive attitude, and her passion for helping others.
She belongs to a non-denominational campus church. She loves to sing, rock climb, and swim, and she’s planning to marry her longtime sweetheart and ConEd classmate Daniel Fiedler.
Roisin, who was born sightless, speaks openly and with feeling about what all of this has meant to her, of how she wants to be seen as a whole person, and how it’s helpful for people to be as open as possible with her. She has kind words for the welcome she was offered by the sensitive and experienced staff of the campus Disability Services.
Roisin prefers the term “blind” to “visually impaired.” The latter, she explains, “focuses on the sense of ‘impaired’ and doesn’t actually tell people what they need to know.
“I also like it when I’m talking to someone and they forget I’m blind,” she adds.
“I think it’s good fun when I’m rock-climbing and someone tells me to move my hand or foot to, say, the blue hold.”
Since Roisin chose to attend Appleby instead of the W. Ross Macdonald School for the Blind in Brantford, there are things she’s still learning to do for herself: cooking, for one. With the help of the Kingston chapter of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, she’s getting to know her way around a kitchen. “Some things are challenging,” she admits with a laugh, “such as knowing when the meat is brown when the recipe says to brown it.”
Since the fall 2007, she has memorized routes from her home and navigates her way to and from classes on both the main and West campuses with the help of Mitsou, her faithful guide dog. Mitsou has become an accepted “fixture” at lectures and AMS meetings.
Queen’s Disability Services has helped Roisin with the acquisition of adapted e-textbooks, although she still reads French texts in Braille. She uses the software JAWS to read her email and other documents. Before each of her classes, Roisin stands up and asks for a volunteer note-taker to help her out, “especially when a professor is writing on the blackboard.”
Last summer, Roisin landed her first paid job, with the Clay and Paper Theatre Company in Toronto. She used one of her paycheques to treat her parents to dinner at O.Noir, a restaurant featuring total darkness and legally blind wait staff. “My mother gained a new understanding of what it means to be blind, eating in the pitch black,” she says. She adds quickly that she credits “so much” of her attitude and success to her parents, who never made her feel there was something “wrong” with her.
Roisin is keen to travel and teach when she graduates in 2011 with her combined BA and BEd. In fact, she has already had a placement in Botswana, where she taught basic math and writing skills to primary school children.
She has a passion for helping people and for breaking down all kinds of barriers. Although she herself is blind, Roisin is one of those rare individuals who make others see that anything is possible.