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Daniel Wolak Has Been Blind From Birth.But That Hasn't Stopped Him From Seeing Things His Way.

Editor's Note: Editors Note: The following article is reprinted from the Globe and Mail, February 7, 2000.

Burlington, Ont. When Susan Wolak was six months into a seemingly easy pregnancy, two years ago last fall, she woke in the night to find her water had broken. Her husband John rushed her to the hospital; they were panicked. I didn't think babies made it when they were born that early, she recalls.

Sometimes they do. Their little boy, Daniel, did. And that was just the first of many new things the Wolak's learned as part of life with Daniel.

He weathered a battery of operations, 2 months in hospital and fought off many of the most severe consequences of extreme prematurity, such as cerebral palsy. But pressure from blood vessels in his eyes caused his retinas to detach; Daniel is blind.

The Wolak's didn't know anybody who was blind before they had Daniel, their first child. Now they find themselves transformed, not just parents of a wildly adventurous 2-year-old, but also advocates for the visually impaired. Mrs. Wolak attends every conference, every teacher training, every meeting she can find; she has started a parents support group.

When we first found out Daniel was blind, we were on our own, she says. There was no one to talk to, it felt like there was nothing out there, it seemed like the end of the world. But its not.

Daniel goes to a regular pre-school, where the other kids all try hard to help him fit in although they don't always understand what it means that he cant see. One day when he was new [there], three boys saw him arrive and they ran right up and then they stood there waiting, recalls Mrs. Wolak. They just didn't realise that he couldn't see they were there.

The Wolak's discovered that Daniel needed toys that made noise, that he did better with his hands and feet uncovered. They are learning Braille, and read to Daniel from tactile books, where he can feel the fuzzy kitty and the Braille letters underneath. Mrs. Wolak makes sure things are labelled in Braille at home and at school so he gets the same stimulation a sighted child gets from being surrounded by words on signs and packages.

The Wolak's have hired a mobility consultant, who comes every two weeks. When Daniel was smaller, she taught him how to crawl, crouching over top of him and showing him how to move his arms and legs. Now she is teaching him how to walk with a tiny white cane.

The cane means hell be able to travel, says his mother. We want him to be out in the world as much as possible. We take him to the petting zoo, to the farm he asks to go and see things. He's got an order in with Daddy to go and see the ocean, cause he heard it on his tape.

Seeing, explains his father, is just a different thing for Daniel. He sees with his feet and hands, and with all his other senses. The family has grown used to Daniel's attentive hearing; he picks out the distant church bells and the crows outside. For Mr. Wolak, a police officer with Halton Regional Police, Daniel's great strength is that he's an explorer. (Mrs. Wolak is a former officer who now works part-time as a civilian for the same force.)

Daniel today is curious, cheerful and not timid. His pre-school teacher insisted he put on mittens before he went outside last week; he informed her, Well have to talk about that. When his mother took him into a crowded doctors waiting room recently, he greeted the waiting patients with Hi, people.

He rambles around the Wolak home, bumping off furniture occasionally. His burly father keeps an eye on him, his mother just shakes her head. Daniel, she says with a chuckle, you're like an old drunk.