“I have never walked into a room full of strangers and instantly connected,” says Rob Harris.
Rob attended the APH ConnectCenter Family Retreat recently held in Louisville, and he hasn’t stopped raving about the amazing connections he made or the amount of information he has absorbed since.
Rob says that it wasn’t difficult to become a participant. “I saw a request for participation at APH FamilyConnect. As a dad (to 16-year-old Isabelle) who is super involved, I thought my perspective might be helpful. APH did too, apparently, because, after an interview, I was chosen to participate.”
Meeting Others Who Understand Advocacy
“Participation” is an understatement, said Rob, and he shared that it was a joy for him to spend time with people who understood his and his family’s journey at the Retreat. Rob expressed that his struggles for the past 16 years have not been easy, but he is now in a place where he wants to help others with similar experiences.
“By fighting for education and rising to the occasion and the need, I have changed my career from working 70 – 80 hours a week at a Fortune 100 company to becoming a full-time advocate for Isabelle.” Rob says that becoming an advocate has, hands down, been the most fulfilling thing he has done in his life.
“I’m a dad who at one point was an ordinary dad, who by no choice of my own became an extraordinary dad.” He is a dad to Isabelle, who has optic nerve hypoplasia. She is not totally blind but legally blind, and it is now his goal to bring advocacy and an equitable environment for all.
“As Isabelle continues to learn her blindness skills, she has been wildly successful,” says the proud dad. Rob states that Isabelle was always led around by her classmates, and then in fifth grade, she was given a cane. That cane, he says, changed her. It gave her independence, and she has never put it down since.
In the first several years, it was hard for Rob and his family to advocate and get the school and the community on board with creating an accessible environment.
“It took many years, but our community finally got the buy-in.”
Rob’s advocacy and his and his wife’s wanting the best for Isabelle are what led Rob to want to participate in the Retreat.
Reflecting on the Retreat
“My experience [at the APH Family Retreat] was wild, as I was the only dad, but it did not matter. As soon as I sat down, we all erupted with who we were and where we were from. I don’t think we shut up the rest of the trip. At the dinner table, we instantly connected over our common interests, blind and low vision improvements. We had TVIs, O&Ms, moms, grandmas, and then me, a dad interested in combining our experiences for some excellent stuff.”
Rob expressed that the entire retreat focused on supporting and leading change for blind or low vision.
“I am not easily impressed, and I am IMPRESSED with the caliber of people who attended.”
He was also “blown away” by the staff and individuals leading the retreat, as they had vast experience with blindness and low vision and were extremely well-versed on any topic you could imagine.
“All of us there, we were chomping at the bit to be there and eager for change and for other families not to experience what we went through. Every person who went was eager to share their experiences.”
Rob very much absorbed, learned, and grew from their retreat experience.
“I would recommend the retreat, especially for dads. Our role is often considered the provider of our families who ensures all are well cared for. This is taking care of our families on a whole different level. The retreat was well equipped to put into perspective that our experience and path to solutions is different, and that is ok; we need THAT too,” says Rob.
In the end, the retreat provided more than Rob had anticipated it ever could, and while he says it is hard to put exactly what he learned into words, he left the retreat with a stronger sense of purpose. He also left with connections from all over the United States; they know they can and will move more mountains in blindness/ low vision.
“It [the Retreat] was like drinking from a fire hose, yet it was so perfect. Very cool, you all are in for a treat from hearing stories and learning from these folks from all over the county!”