By Mufaddal Munshi
When I was 41 years old I left my home in Mumbai, India, and came to Canada in search of something better.
What I was seeking was dignity of life, and I’m delighted to say I found it here. It does exist. It may be elusive, it may come slowly, but it does exist.
I was born with retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic disorder that meant I would never have perfect vision, and would eventually lose my sight entirely. Nobody knew when it would happen, of course, but the general assumption was around the age of 45 or 50. Unfortunately, that’s not how it happened for me, and I ended up losing all my sight at the age of 21, a few days after I graduated from university.
When I lost my sight, the decline was extremely rapid. At first I just thought I was tired because of the stress of studying for exams. I thought that had taken a toll on me and I just needed some rest. I lost track of time and slept for more than 36 hours. When I finally got up and tried to walk out of my room, I ran right into my door.
That’s basically how it dawned on me that I had lost a lot of my sight. Soon, all I could see were dots of light in each eye. Now I can’t see the dots in my left eye anymore. The right eye just has a couple of dots.
Within a few months, I began learning to live without sight. I realized the critical need to learn technology, so I took a program for computer skills for the visually impaired and learned how to use a screen-reader.
I did a whole bunch of things around that time so I’d be able to resurface, including a rehab program for the blind where you learn day-to-day skills, mobility skills, general domestic skills, and such. That program gave me a strong realization of how difficult my path ahead was going to be.
I went back to school to take a master’s degree in Sociology, a post-graduate diploma in Business Management, and also earned a diploma in French. Later, I took a job with an export business in India, and worked as their operations lead for nine years.
I eventually realized there was no more I could do at that company, so I started exploring opportunities, looking for something I could do in bigger spaces. That’s when I realized the reality of the job market in India for somebody with a disability. The general notion back then was a person with a disability would only ever be hired because it was the company’s social responsibility. Workplace accommodations weren’t easy to come by, especially if you had a severe disability like mine. It just wasn’t something companies in India were readily investing in.
After that, migration became a constant pursuit. In 2015, I applied to emigrate to Canada. I wrote a nine-page letter to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, telling them how I would be a responsible and contributing citizen. In 2017, I was invited to apply for a permanent residency visa. On March 1, 2018, I arrived in Canada for the first time.
I soon realized the job search here is very different from the job search in India. I was confronted with a whole new system. The way people are positioned for work and work opportunities is very different.
With my savings running out, I was ready to take up any job I could get. Unfortunately, that job wouldn’t come so easily. I was able to land a position with an insurance company but, despite their efforts to accommodate me, the stint ended up being short-lived because of numerous technological hurdles.
I was eventually able to find rewarding work thanks to the help I received from a charitable organization called ACCES Employment. I had connected with ACCES before moving to Canada, and continued to benefit from their assistance after I arrived. I took part in networking and mentoring sessions, and a bridging program to help people transitioning to new countries and new careers.
ACCES definitely played an extremely important role for me, no more so than when they connected me to my current employer, Magnet, an opportunity matching platform housed at Ryerson University. After ACCES made the introduction, I applied for a job at Magnet, went through the interview process, and was hired in January, 2020.
I’m extremely happy to be working at Magnet and Ryerson. As an employer, they have a good support system for somebody with a disability. The support I get from Ryerson’s Mental Health and Wellbeing services, and the support I get from the Accessibility division, is immense, it is huge. They’ve helped me through every single glitch I’ve faced with technology.
What I’m doing now, working with the Magnet Student Work Placement Program, there’s a lot of outreach to post-secondary institutions and employers, keeping them engaged in the program. It’s totally my forte, it’s something I’m quite capable of doing.
I’m in a great place. I love Toronto. I love where I am right now. Even with the pandemic, I’m able to bring value to my life. This is what dignity of life is. It comes with an opportunity to do something at par with your peers.
I’ve found that Canada allows for so many more opportunities and so much more dignity for persons with disabilities. That’s what I came here seeking. This is where my destiny has brought me and stood me up today. Stood me tall, actually, and quite proud. I’m so happy to be here.
Mufaddal Munshi is a project coordinator at Magnet.
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