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Meet Our Second Vice President: Oriano Belusic

When seven-year-old Oriano Belusic and a childhood playmate found an elongated metal container near their home in Istria in the former Yugoslavia, they fought over who got to play with it first. Oriano won! That childhood victory proved to be a life-changing experience.

"I remember using a rock trying to knock the top off the thing to see what was inside. I don't remember the top coming off, but I am sure that it did when the bomb exploded." Hospital officials later told Oriano that this plaything had been an Italian hand grenade.

"I lost my eyesight and my right arm halfway to my elbow. My friend got some cuts from shrapnel, but he had no permanent damage."

At the school for the blind in Zagreb where he spent the next three years, Oriano learned Braille and a great deal about blindness. "People talk about adjusting to blindness. For me adjustment took about thirty seconds. I realized that I couldn't see and started asking if my friend was in the room with me. I was blind. It was just something that I accepted. There is no point in wasting a lot of time worrying about something that you can not change."

Oriano's uncle lived in Victoria, BC, and urged the family to immigrate to Canada. "We arrived in July of 1973. I started at the Jericho Hill School for the Blind that September. I actually found learning English much more challenging than learning to be blind. I started in the fourth grade, but I really couldn't keep up because I did not know the language. I could do the math because numbers are the same in both languages. It took about six months before I could understand and make myself understood in English."

When the Jericho Hill School began experimenting with integrating blind students into local public schools, Oriano left during his seventh grade year to attend the community school near his parent's Victoria home. He graduated from his local high school and went on to the University of Victoria.

"I became interested in amateur radio and got my license in 1978. I started playing with computers when the first Apple and Commodore computers had rudimentary speech output. I think I probably tried every kind of personal computer blind people have ever used. I remember the Commodore VIC20. I worked with the Osborne. I learned how to take computers apart and put them together. I haven't kept a precise count, but I've probably built over one hundred computers from component parts."

With his love of computers, it was only natural that Oriano would enrol in a Computer Science degree program at the University of Victoria. "At that time it seemed as though almost everybody was studying computer science. I decided I really needed to do something a little broader." In 1987, Oriano graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in economics. "The combination of computer know-how and a broad economics degree has been a very good one for me." At about the time that he graduated, the BC Government introduced an initiative for entrepreneurs. "I was one of thirty people who attended an intensive course where we developed business plans and actually got our companies off the ground. Several months after the course, I ended up going into partnership with two of the other course participants. We called our business Complete Computer Services Group. We rented a thousand square feet of space in a prime downtown location. One partner was interested in computer training. The other did software development. I was interested in hardware and service agreements. Between us, we really could offer a complete computer service. The contacts I had made in the course proved very useful. I had actually sold five systems before the course even ended. At its peak, the umbrella company had eleven employees and did more than a million dollars business in a year. But as business became more competitive and companies like London Drugs entered the market we decided to liquidate the business." The partnership ended in 1993.

Oriano has been working selling adaptive technology for the blind since his first year at university. "I thought of adaptive technology as a sideline that would help keep me in pizza money while I was in school. I called my little company Personal Communications Systems or PC Systems for short. When we closed down the Complete Computer Services Group the PC Systems business had grown enough to provide me with a decent living." Oriano operates his business from his home. He supplements his work with computers by dabbling in real estate and works with computer-assisted technology in Energy Smart houses.

Oriano has a long history of advocating for himself and other blind people. "Most of the time I was the one who squawked when I believed that blind individuals weren't getting needed services. You can do a lot as one person trying to help others, but that is not the complete answer. I'm excited about the NFB:AE because I believe it offers blind people a chance to communicate with one another across the country. There will be a lot of different opinions expressed and this will inevitably lead to some friction, but that's one of the most hopeful signs. Blind people need to be able to thrash out ideas and debate the best course for us to take. It will work well for us if we have a deep investment in one another as human beings. That's why I think the NFB:AE is such a positive thing. I think the next three or four years will see us growing much larger and much stronger."

Oriano was one of the founding members of the Vancouver Island chapter of the NFB:AE. "I've been involved in starting a number of groups. This excites me because we are going to be holding a convention in Vancouver. We have the chance to make a real impact in Canada."

Oriano is also making an impact in his native land. "I have visited with the organization of the blind in Pula, Croatia. That is a city in Istria, a part of Croatia that is just fifty or so kilometers from the Italian border. Istria escaped the fighting. It is still very ethnically diverse. The economic troubles the war caused have hurt the area. There isn't much money for the organization of the blind. Even so, I think they have the potential of offering as much as is available in Canada within the next five years. Blind people run the organization and the spirit is great!"

"Negative attitudes towards blindness are prevalent in that culture. They are really obvious and need to be confronted directly. In Canada the attitudes are more subtle. Sometimes stereotypic thinking is just below the surface. It is the same problem wherever you live. That's why I have very little patience with nationalism especially when it comes to blindness. We need to share with blind people from all over the world. We are lucky to be living right next door to a large and very successful organization of the blind. They have resources and experiences that can help us."

In addition to his work as treasurer of the Vancouver Island Dog Guide Society, Oriano is also active in his localLions Club and the amateur radio organization. He has volunteered to raise resources to help the blind organization in Croatia. He has also served on advisory boards for the CNIB.

One day in 1988, a CNIB staff member dared him to attend a dance the agency was organizing. "I hate those kind of things, but I took the dare." At the dance he met Doris Tandberg. They were married six months later. "I met my wife, obtained my second guide dog, became married and haven't been to a dance since."

Doris is losing her vision from retinitus pigmentosa. "She still sees very well, but her field of vision is narrowing. When we go some place together she reads the signs and I help make her aware of upcoming obstacles."

At the NFB:AE meeting held in conjunction with the NFB convention in New Orleans, Oriano Belusic was elected Second Vice President of the organization. "I really think the most important thing you can do is communicate with each other and work together to change attitudes about blindness. The more you know about what other blind people are doing, the more encouraging it becomes. As Second Vice President I am committed to do whatever I can to encourage communication and help do the work of the organization." With his history of accomplishment and his positive spirit there is no doubt the NFB:AE will benefit greatly from his participation on the Board.

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