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Adhering to a Personal Vision Frances Tanner Has Overcome Her Loss of Sight

Editor's Note: Editor's Note: The following article is re-printed from the Toronto Sun, October 15, 1999.

Blind business entrepreneur Frances Tanner inspires people with her triumph over tragedy. As a motivational speaker and events manager for 20 years, Tanner has defied her handicap by staging more than 1,000 national conferences, annual general meetings and seminars. When doubters question how she performs site inspections of potential halls, this Woman on the Move nominee literally turns her back on them. She routinely asks staff to draw a picture on her back or on her hand, detailing the room's layout.

"I see beyond my blindness," says Tanner, "and I'm overcoming it minute by minute. I remind people that "ability" is the largest part of "disability." Diabetes robbed Tanner of her sight within a matter of months 15 years ago. With two university degrees in applied science and commerce to her credit, Tanner was studying French immersion in Quebec at the time but she doggedly continued the course by mastering a cane. "I made sure I looked at my parents a lot before I went blind," says Tanner, who credits her family's love and support as the reason she lives independently and tackles life with such determination

"The world went from bright lights and colour, to dark. But I have my memory box where I remember things like the beautiful garden where I grew up."

"Turned a lemon into lemonade"

Last year Tanner, 40, was downsized from her 10-year position at Noranda Inc. She had to overcome the challenges of job transition and the pitfalls of equating her identity with a job. To become more employable, the spunky woman "turned a lemon into lemonade."

She took a correspondence course to be a certified meeting professional, only to find the course material could not be interpreted into Braille. The Ryerson hospitality students whom Tanner lectures, rallied and recorded all the chapters on tape for her studies. A friend read out 150 multiple-choice questions to Tanner as she completed the six-hour exam.

Promoting disabled peoples' rights comes naturally to Tanner. She has taken three cab drivers before the Metro Licensing Commission for barring Gilly, her guide dog of eight years and violating the Blind Persons Rights Act.

University and business audiences are left awestruck at the courageous outlook and corporate accomplishments of this 4-foot-10 ball of energy. She survived a kidney transplant 10 years ago after one of her brothers donated an organ, golf's regularly, loves to travel and learned to ride a tandem bicycle this summer.

Skiing at the Metro Zoo is her winter challenge. Loss has been a recurring theme in Tanner's life. But during her humorous, motivational speeches, she repeats the unknown author's words which she lives by: "If you love something, set it free. If it comes back, it is yours. If it doesn't, it never was."

Her speeches summon rave reviews for Tanner Talk, a company which Tanner launched to advise hospitality students, hotel staff and planners about producing seamless events and improving customer satisfaction. Tanner and colleague David Rose are also developing and selling meeting planner software. Volunteering gives Tanner a chance to fulfill her personal philosophy of giving back to the community and being a model to young people.

Words on Work, a new initiative by The Learning Partnership, the Ontario Women's Directorate and Partners for Change, recruited Tanner and other dynamic individuals to mentor students in Grades 4 to 12. "I don't know what halfway is," says Tanner, sitting in her apartment surrounded by sunflowers, music and candles. "I work very hard to be regarded as equal in the business world. And I'm willing to put in any amount of personal time to learn."

Despite an active life of successful self-endeavors, Tanner is actively looking for full-time work. Since all her jobs have been self-created, Tanner is confident an employer will look past her disability the same way she does.

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