Julie Martin: Making Lives Better

Julie Martin

"Life is too short to learn from your mistakes. Learn from mine." That is the motto of Hadley HERO Julie Martin, who loves to share resources and tips with others who could benefit from her experience. In particular, she shares what she has found to be helpful as someone living with vision loss.

Julie was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa in her twenties. "I was 26 when I first heard those words and I basically ignored it until I was almost 40," Julie recalls.

She emigrated from England to Canada in 1989 and then later moved from Alberta to Nova Scotia where her husband had been born and raised. When moving to Nova Scotia, Julie had a rough transition. “For the first time in my life I felt disabled,” she remembers. The lack of public transportation made life difficult, and she felt the stares when she used her white cane. "It was just terrifying, and I really did withdraw." 

Then, bit by bit, Julie found her voice and that voice grew stronger.

She started volunteering at local organizations and advocating for herself and others facing sight loss. She’s done a lot of work with the local libraries and parks and recreation. “They’ve really stepped up to the plate and ensured that all their programs are accessible,” Julie says proudly.

Through her advocacy work, Julie came to realize a few things. "It’s not that people don’t care," she says. "They just want to hear what the problem is. And, most importantly, they want to know how they can be a part of the solution."

Julie’s passion for serving those facing vision loss stems from her own experience and a reality that she knows all too well. "Unfortunately, when you’re given the diagnosis (of a disabling eye condition), you're not given very much else. It’s just like ‘There you go. See you. Good luck.’ You just don’t know where to go."

Julie wants her efforts to counter that reality; to get the word out that there are resources and a community to connect with. “The loss of independence is harmful. It can destroy a person,” she says. “But if we don’t learn the skills, we can stay stuck,” says Julie.

On the positive side, Julie is amazed at the resilience and ingenuity of the local community she is now a part of. “It absolutely blows me away how many people are facing the same struggles and barriers, and some of the ingenious ways people have of overcoming them. It’s just heartwarming,” Julie notes.

In addition to her local group, Julie has found an online community, The International Blind Café group on Facebook and Discord, and has thoroughly enjoyed learning from and sharing with their 1,500 members from all over the world. In fact, it was in a conversation with a founder of that group that Julie learned of Hadley and decided to learn braille with us. She had tried learning braille three times before but never got very far. “From the second I looked at the Hadley books I thought, ‘Oh, this is so much better!’ It explains it in plain English, I can do it at my own pace, and I don’t have somebody scolding me because I got it wrong.”

And the fact that she was learning with others --- with a group from The International Blind Café made it even more fun. “We can laugh at ourselves and with each other and don’t feel so stressed because we didn’t get something right away,” she says. “I was so proud when I finished the letters!”

Another high point for Julie came the other day in a hospital elevator. “For the first time ever, I got myself up and down without having to ask for someone’s help reading the buttons. I was beaming!”

Julie is a community reporter with AMI, a not-for-profit media company dedicated to Canadians with vision loss. In that role, she had the opportunity to share her experiences. “I’m just blown away with Hadley!” is a direct quote from her recent interview.

And we at Hadley are impressed by Julie, too. For her tireless work advocating on behalf of the community and personally sharing resources that make lives better, Julie Martin has been nominated to be a Hadley HERO. Thank you, Julie!