Blindness didn’t stop StandingReady from legal career dream
- NC Raine | December 20, 2021
When Connor StandingReady is admitted to the Saskatchewan Bar, he will make history as the first lawyer from White Bear First Nations.
He will also be realizing the dream of his parents and grandparents to have lawyer in the family.
But the accomplishments are even more significant because StandingReady is legally blind.
“I'm a big believer that if you set your mind to something and if your desire to accomplish it is strong, then the world kind of moves around you in order for that to happen. And I think I'm a pretty good testament to that,” he said.
StandingReady speaks of the challenges he’s faced with the matter-of-factness and nonchalance of a person who has been too busy leaping over hurdles to worry about how high they were.
The 28-year-old is completely blind in his left eye (the retina in that eye constantly fires, making him see firework-like flashes at all times,) and has only “navigational vision” in his right – enough to walk around without bumping into things, he says.
StandingReady was born with congenital cataracts in both eyes – a rare birth defect that can cause vision problems or blindness – leading to eye surgery when he was only six weeks old. His vision was corrected with glasses, until he was 13, when his eyesight rapidly deteriorated.
There was a new surgery being performed in Indianapolis that could transplant a piece of his cornea needed to restore his vision. StandingReady’s school in Carlisle raised $20,000 to make sure he could get the operation. And for a few days following the surgery, all seemed well.
“I was pretty ecstatic. I was thinking that my world was going to be open. But after a few days, I started to see this shadow, like a curtain descending over my field of vision,” he said.
During the surgery, StandingReady’s retina had detached – a risk he knew of going in. After a few brief days of clear vision, StandingReady permanently lost vision in his left eye.
“I didn't know how to deal with it. I was a little kid. I would have tantrums, I would lash out,” he said.
“Because of my vision, I had trouble fitting in with kids that age. It was tough. I had anxiety for a long time. I didn't know how to make friends. All the kids my age were playing sports and video games, and that was something I wasn't part of anymore. So I fell into a deep depression.”
In his later teen years, StandingReady said he got into drugs and drinking, both as a means to cope and as a way to feel connected with others. But at about 19 or 20, he came out of his depression and realized using substances to cope was not a sustainable solution.
“Even to this day, people tell me to hold out hope. But in the end, you just have to learn to deal with it. I realized, since this is something I can't change, I better start learning how to accept and adapt and love myself regardless.”
In a better mental place, StandingReady began studying political science at First Nations University of Canada, but the challenges were far from over. Without knowing of any of the disability services available to him, or having a peer to help guide him through, StandingReady struggled with tasks most would take for granted, like reading.
“That was the biggest challenge… actually finding out those resources existed. When I was going to University in Regina, I was trying to read by maximizing the font and using what little remaining vision I had. It was super slow, something that would take you half an hour to read would take me three or four hours.”
Despite the challenges, StandingReady graduated as valedictorian of his class, and went on to work at the Gathering Place in Regina for a year before applying and being accepted to the College of Law at the University of Saskatchewan. He started using a digital screen reader and, importantly, to speak up for himself, he said.
“I learned to be an advocate for myself because no one else is going to do it. I was used to people knowing what I needed. But no one knows what you need until you tell them.”
With his law degree almost in the bag, StandingReady is now articling at Community Legal Assistance Services for Saskatoon Inner City Inc. (CLASSIC Law) in Saskatoon. He expects to be called to the bar in autumn 2022.
“It's been a journey,” he said.
“I think it's okay not to know all the answers. But I think in your life, you’ve been given something that you’re passionate about, I think you have to follow that and work at it because that’s your way out of the darkness.”