MacEwan massage therapy student not letting lack of sight hold him back

EDMONTON – Jamey Wagner has come a long way since losing his sight and some of his hearing in a crash just over five years ago at the age of 22.

“I struck a bad set of cards,” he said, “but still, I consider myself a lucky man.”

Archive Video: Watch above to learn more about his 2011 crash, and his inspirational road of rehabilitation.

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Since he was no longer able to work as an electrical engineering technologist, Wagner decided to pursue a new career, one that allows him to use his sense of touch to help others.

“You don’t need your sight to do massage therapy. It all comes down to your sense of touch, and my sense of touch is actually heightened since I lost my sight,” he said.

“I figured, you know what, it would be nice to get into a profession where I can make people feel better; I can give people back something they lost – like their range of motion, their ability to do certain things.”

Wagner admits the massage therapy program at MacEwan University isn’t exactly easy; many of his classmates have dropped out. But despite facing added challenges, the 27-year-old has stuck with it.

He says MacEwan has been fantastic to him, supplying tutors, as well as support staff who take notes for him that he can then listen to on a computer.

His instructors have also played a big role in his continued success, adapting their teaching style to be more descriptive and less reliant on visual aids.

“Really it helps us be better instructors,” said Sandra Macdonald.

Whenever there are demonstrations in class, she and other instructors will use Wagner as a model so that he can feel what they’re trying to show the students.

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Luckily, he’s always been a hands-on learner.

In June, Wagner will become the second blind student to ever complete the MacEwan program.

And although Wagner is optimistic about his employability upon graduation, he’s also a little worried. According to the CNIB, only 30 per cent of working age adults with vision loss are employed.

“I know I’m going to be at a massive disadvantage as a blind massage therapist because most places don’t want to take me in just because of this handicap. And that’s unfortunate,” he said.

His instructors feel strongly that he deserves a chance, and are encouraging potential employers to give him one.

“Don’t be put off because he can’t see,” said Macdonald. “Maybe he’ll bring something to the table that a sighted student won’t.

In addition to his massage therapy studies, Wagner has also been training for his new passion of dragon-boating. His visually impaired team will be competing in Italy this coming fall, representing Canada at the Worlds.

With files from Su-Ling Goh, Global News

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