Brett Devloo was aged 15 when he suddenly began to go blind within one terrifying week in November 2011.
“I was sitting in history class and couldn’t see the board. I asked my friend beside me if she could see it. She said she could, so I knew it was me.”
Before that nightmare situation arose, Brett was just a typical teenager living life. Living in Canada, he had just earned his learner’s permit to drive. In his free time, He would hang out with friends and go skateboarding.
“I saw like five specialists in seven days, doing a bunch of different tests like blood work, MRIs, seeing neurologists, optometrists, ophthalmologists, just general surgeons…none of them knew what was going on,” Devloo said.
“It was completely random and unexpected, and I went blind in a week.”
During the next six months, doctors continued with a battery of tests as Brett Devloo’s vision got worse. Finally, he was diagnosed with a rare progressive disease called Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy, or LHON.
LHON is a genetic disease caused by a mutation in the DNA. It causes cells in the optic nerve to atrophy resulting in sudden loss of central vision. There is no cure or effective treatment for the disease.
After the grim diagnosis, Brett Devloo was determined not to let the blindness prevent him from living and achieving goals. “I do everything I possibly can to still be the same teenager I was before,” he said. “Before I was just a regular teenager . I had my own car, and I had a part-time job. I got fired from my job because I went blind.”
The disease had taken so much from Brett that when his father said he would have to give up skateboarding, he said, “No.” Brett would not accept one more limitation without a fight.
“It’s ironic. Since I went blind, I got better at skateboarding.”
Brett has also been able to turn his disability into a new opportunity: He started a skateboard-inspired clothing company called TBK.
TBK stands for Bretts high school peer choosen nom de plume: The Blind Kid.
“I’d be walking down the halls in school or on the streets and I’d hear people whispering ‘there goes the blind kid.’ So instead of taking offense to it, I just kind of owned it. I don’t really give people the chance to bully me.”
Embracing his new “Blind Kid” status, Devloo has created his own clothing company TBK (The Blind Kid). With each sale from his clothing line, Brett is able to donate $1 towards buying iPads for other kids like him with visual impairments.
The use of an iPad helped Brett tremendously in high school, as it can help him do work. The iPad, iPod, and iPhone are all visual devices utilizing touch screen technology, however they all accessible using Apple’s built in screen reader called VoiceOver. VoiceOver allows the user to navigate the iPad using finger gestures, a Bluetooth keyboard, or a Refreshable Braille display.
Devloo said he has been able to give away four iPads to blind students living in Winnipeg .
With only one per cent vision, Devloo has to create cues to help him navigate the skate park. Well-placed sneakers to mark the bottom and top of a ramp give Devloo enough contrast to help him know when to pop the trick. He can’t do lines (several tricks in a row) as he did before going blind, but he’s OK with that. Most of the time, he is accompanied by friends who can give him verbal cues.
Gerald Devloo, his father, said his son also manages by always skateboarding on the same street that he knows really well in his hometown of Stonewall. Brett was put in an impossible situation, but he has found creative ways to get over and around it.