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Women to Watch

Editor's Note: The following Article was printed in BC Woman Magazine, March 1997 issue.

Meet a woman who is giving vision to the blind. Kelowna resident Mary Ellen Gabias is a magazine editor, a community volunteer and the mother of three young children. She also happens to be blind. Gabias knows that some people may find it surprising that she leads such an independent, productive and fulfilling life, but she hopes to change that perception through her work with the National Federation of the Blind: Advocates for Equality.

Established as a national organization in Kelowna by Gabias and her husband Paul, the Federation, which was incorporated in 1992, seeks to educate the public that with the right training and equal opportunity there is very little a blind person can't do.

"We can absolutely compete on any level," says Gabias, who is editor of the Federation's magazine The Canadian Blind Monitor. The Federation also holds meetings to bring blind people together to build self-esteem, discuss specific problems and offer solutions, and to provide support to the parents of blind children. Gabias says that while it is important for blind people to integrate with the rest of the world, it is also beneficial for blind children to come in contact with blind adults.

"For example, I grew up wondering how I'd ever be able to handle being a parent because I was 18 before I met parents who were blind," recalls Gabias. "I didn't understand how I would be able to take care of my children, but as an adult I learned how it could be done."

Gabias, 44, was obviously a quick study because she gets plenty of exercise running after her three children: Joanne, 7, Jeffrey, 4, and Philip, who is 4 months old.

Mary Ellen and Paul, who is a psychology professor at Okanagan University College, met about nine years ago when she was on staff at The National Federation of the Blind in Baltimore, and he came to the Federation to attend a leadership seminar.

They married 10 months after they met and Mary Ellen, who grew up in Ohio and has a bachelor's degree in psychology, moved to Canada with Paul.

The Federation also sends blind people to special seminars and classes for job training and networking because unemployment is an ongoing problem in the blind community.

"We want employers to know that being blind is not a negative," Gabias explains. "I know from my own experience that being blind has forced me to a greater level of skill and organization than I might have had otherwise."