For many years, Grade 9 student Nika Najafi didn't know anyone who was blind or visually impaired other than herself and her vision teacher and making friends with her sighted peers was always challenging.
"I didn't know that there were other people going through the same thing," said Najafi, a student at North Vancouver's Argyle Secondary.
That was until she started attending workshops and events offered by Blind Beginnings, a New Westminster-based non-profit that helps blind or partially sighted children and young people in B.C. connect with each other and develop various skills.
Workshops to help visually impaired youth
Founder and executive director Shawn Marsolais says her organization offers workshops and activities to help children build confidence, develop the skills to recognize various social cues (such as knowing what a high five or thumbs down is), and teaches them how to alleviate some of the misconceptions that sighted people have about blindness.
"The more comfortable we are with our own disability, the more comfortable other people will be with us too," said Marsolais, who is visually impaired herself.
Marsolais says blind or partially sighted youth face various challenges and have to learn other ways to socially interact with people.
"Usually they are the only person who's blind in their family, in their school and sometimes in their community and being different is hard when you're a kid," she told host Stephen Quinn on The Early Edition.
"[Our programs] give the kids the confidence and understanding that they're okay just the way they are. They just see differently."
Najafi says she was "excited" to find Blind Beginnings and meet other visually impaired people. She says the programs she has participated in have given her the confidence to be more involved at school.
"Blind beginnings has helped me so much with advocating for myself," she said.
"Starting from this year I actually joined more clubs. I'm in a lot of drama, plays and just so many different activities because I feel more confident."
But one of the most important things Najafi has learned from Blind Beginnings is from their philosophy that there is "no limit" to what children and youth who are visually impaired can accomplish.
"A lot of people think blind children — or just in general blind people — can't do anything. I just think that they need to give them a chance," she said.
"I can do anything a sighted person can do, but just differently."
To hear the full story listen to the audio labelled: Non-profit Blind Beginnings helps visually impaired children and youth connect, gain confidence