Hi, I'm Josh and this is my story:

I was born with what looked like stars in my eyes, my mother was the first to see them. Rather than being an omen of good fortune, what she saw were my cataracts. The local doctor overlooked them, and it took months for my condition to be properly diagnosed. I got them removed when I was 6 months old (the first of many surgeries that punctuated my childhood), by which point I was left with only 10% vision, and classified as severely legally blind. Despite all this, I developed normally, and was a very energetic and active child. My parents had hope. Whenever they saw the specialist, he would always reassure them that my condition was only a matter of time, that by the time I was 5 at latest, they could always give me corrective surgery that would completely restore my sight. All this changed when I was 5 and went for what I thought was a routine appointment with my specialist. This time he was far less comforting. My parents asked him when I would be able to have the surgery, and he told them that it wasn't only a matter of it being delayed, he considered it impossible due to my micropthalmia, and believed the damage to my optic nerves would never be able to be reversed. He must have known this for some time, but his casual way of saying such devastating words made my parents break down. I was too young to know what was wrong, but I remember my parents crying, and my mother running out of the room. It was the moment when the prospect of a normal life was taken away.

Most of us take our sight for granted. Which is understandable, its something almost all of us were born with, and something that most of us trust will stay with us as long as we live. Unfortunately, too often that can lead to a lack of compassion or a lack of sympathy for the lives of the vision impaired. I know there are many good people out there, but in my childhood, the negative experiences far outweighed the positive ones. Take my school days, for example. I went to local public schools, and while some tried their best, there were many problems. The schools couldn't decide whether they wanted me to focus on learning English or learning Braille, so I would be uncertain of whether my whole pattern of study had to change again. This was of course in the times when there was work for me to do. Too often, especially in high school, I was simply sent home hours early because there was no one on hand who could work with my condition, and they had no work for me. In those conditions, I couldn't help but fall behind.

The challenges went well beyond teaching. I had financial difficulties with assistive technology, some of the machines of the time (like the PacMate, a braille computer) cost $10,000, which my family had to pay. While most of my fellow students in the first years of school were respectful and curious, this tolerance went out the window when I began high school. (Grade 7 in the Australian system, equivalent to the first year of junior high.) There a new pattern began, one where I was bullied and harassed. At first it was verbal, but it escalated to physical violence, both bruises and attacks on my assistive technology. The bullies faced no real consequences, especially as the school wouldn't take my word on who was doing the bullying. I could tell by the voices, but they insisted on only being able to tell by their appearance, which is an absurdity for a legally blind student to deal with. The experience left me with deep psychological scars, and severe depression. For the first time, with many struggles and little support, I began to question whether life was worth living.

Luckily, I never gave into those dark thoughts, and I'm still here. Life still has a lot of difficulties. Technology and other assistive equipment remains highly expensive, and can often be out of reach. There have been upsides, but they're never simple, and there are often complications. Earlier this year, I got a new buddy and best friend in my guide dog, Victory. I've only had him for a few months, but he's already helped me so much. He's not only assisted my mobility and independence, he's lifted my spirits and made me realize that there is more I can achieve in life despite my disability. For so long I took my condition as a curse, but I'm trying to see it as a handicap that with luck and patience I can overcome. I've begun to dream again, of being able to travel and see the world before my vision deteriorates further (which due to my glaucoma is almost a certainty), to be able to help others like me who have faced discrimination in all areas of their lives. The one downside is that managing my and his combined expenses is hard, and while my dreams finally feel attainable, they're further away than ever.

I know my story is just one of many, and I hope it gives you a sense of connection or one of understanding. Perhaps my biggest dream is for an easier and fairer life for the disabled, they face so many challenges that we ought to do what we can to lessen them. Thanks so much for reading. https://www.gofundme.com/MeAndVictory