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Seeing past a disability

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Dec. 3 is known as the International Day of Persons With Disabilities. People with disabilities face some
incredibly daunting challenges, but despite that, they find ways to overcome those obstacles and lead a fulfilling and rewarding life.
One local Valley resident hasn’t let his disability stop him from running a business for over 20 years.
Vision is something most of us take for granted, but when it’s failing or we can’t see, we realize how impactful the loss of it is. 
Chris Yelinek experienced extreme vision impairment since birth and has had to overcome many obstacles
during his life as a result. “I was diagnosed with my disability since birth,” said Yelinek. “It’s been challenging because I can’t really see and having limited vision makes it hard to get around. As a youth
going to school, it also made things more difficult. I learned braille really early in school and then print, which has allowed me to read and write. Having those skills has been extremely beneficial to me over the years. 
“Not being able to see anything at all or as clearly as other people can feel isolating at times. It led to some teasing when I went to school and that was really hard. I was fortunate to have some support from some of the teachers and educational assistants (EA) I had over the years to help me deal with some of that.”
At an early age, Yelinek had some wonderful people in his life that helped take care of him and introduced him to new things. He was also fortunate to have some great supports in his early elementary years. He holds fond memories of those special people that were in his life early on. 
“The people who started Spruce Country Computers, Garth and Annabelle MacDonald, were actually our
babysitters when my brother Devon and I were young,” said Yelinek. “Technically I was around them  when they were working on computers. They were wonderful people. I remember they had airplanes on their farm and their son, Darren, was always flying toy airplanes. It was great because we were introduced to so many things out at their place when we were little. 
“I had some great EAs while I attended school. Elaine Kolodichuk, Cindy Bobick and Elaine Haines -
they were the three that I remember the most. As a student with special needs, you spend a lot of time with your EA, and these ladies were incredibly kind to me and easy to work with. They took the time to do things with me that helped me learn and to feel included with others. Elaine (Kolodichuk) and Cindy
both learned braille in order to help me, which was incredibly outstanding because I’m not sure how many people would learn braille in order to help someone who has a visual impairment. They went above and beyond in that sense to make sure I could see and read the materials. 
“At ESRSS, one of my most memorable and favourite teachers was Lucie Lachapelle,” said Yelinek. “I had her as a teacher for three years in a row and she really got to know me. I felt she really supported my
needs and advocated for my capabilities as a student.
“Mr. Steen and Mr. Stock were also great,” said Yelinek. “Susan Slobodzian was another teacher who really cared and was a great support to me as well. She moved to Winnipeg and when I moved there, I looked her up through the phonebook and there were a lot of listings with that name, so it took me a while to find her.”
Yelinek required special devices at an early age to help aid him in his education. These kinds of devices and specialized computers can be quite costly and challenging to obtain. “A device that helped me in school was a little pen that you could put to paper and it would make the lines raise up so you could feel the lines,” said Yelinek.
“Different things like that helped my learning in school.” 
As he got older, Yelinek received chances to gain some meaningful work experiences as a student  and then once he graduated from SVRSS. These experiences have provided him with compassion, integrity and a desire to help people. 
“When I was in ESRSS, I had an opportunity to work at the personal care home and Swan Valley Lodge for five years,” said Yelinek.
“I would help the residents and spend time with them. I found it very rewarding to show compassion to people and help them.
“I once worked at Swan Valley Consumer’s Co-op (SVCC), under the management of Grant Wicks, back
when the old store was in operation. I remember doing my research about the SVCC and going to a job interview wearing a tie and shirt that matched the company colours and it was kind of ironic, but Grant
was wearing similar colours as well, so it was kind of humorous for both of us.
“Grant gave me an opportunity to work in the hardware section and I absolutely loved it,” said Yelinek. “I enjoyed the atmosphere and getting to help and talk to the farmers in the Valley who were coming in for supplies.
It was great job experience and he was really good to work for because he was very understanding about what I could and couldn’t do.” 
After Yelinek graduated from SVRSS, he found it challenging to find post-secondary learning, at that time, for people with visual impairment disabilities. Also, for him, learning through a distance education
model wasn’t an easy experience. 
Yelinek also struggled to find employment due to his disability. Many employers wanted people who could drive and Yelinek felt that once he disclosed his disability, it prevented people from hiring him.
While attending classes, Yelinek opened up a business for himself working with computers.
His business, Cat ‘N Mouse Computers, has been running for 21 years. 
“I did some university for a couple of years through Athabasca University and took Computer Science,” said Yelinek. “I took my post-secondary learning remotely and it was tough. “I had my business
Cat ‘N Mouse Computers already running when I was in school. 
"My brother Devon and I had special computers and they were very expensive. 
When they needed to be fixed and, living out on the farm, it was hard to get someone to come out and repair them. Our computers were custom configured and we would have to pack them up and bring them in. Sometimes these out-of-town technicians would actually cause more problems with our computers.
For example, the sound card would get knocked out and for my brother (who is fully blind), it is a necessary component. “That prompted me to learn how to fix our own computers and from there it turned into a business,” said Yelinek. “Learning how they work and how to fix them was really a necessity
for me. I liked computers, but when they became a daily part of our lives, it became more apparent that I
needed to know more about how to maintain and repair them. That is really how Cat ‘N Mouse Computers was born."
Over the years Yelinek has found ways to integrate within the community and to also give back. He found a local club that has made him feel entirely accepted and include him in their activities.
“I was with Swan Valley Lions Club for many years and have been able to do a variety of projects with them,” said Yelinek. “I’ve helped out with pancake breakfasts and community barbecues over the years.
They’re a great group of people who really make me feel included and accepted.” 
Yelinek has had to face other challenges as a result of his disability. Things like finding employment and living on his own are two of the main ones he encounters. 
Finding transportation and mobility can also be an issue, especially when living in rural areas.
“I’m very fortunate to have Darcy Mateika as a support person in my life,” said Yelink. “Darcy drives me to many of my appointments, helps me to get around and shows me kindness and compassion. I honestly
don’t know what I would do without Darcy.”
A big part of living with a disability is having to advocate for one’s self. It’s not the easiest thing to do, because not many people can relate to those who have a disability, therefore they may not be as aware of the challenges as they should be. 
“I learned at a very early age to advocate for myself,” said Yelinek. “I had to do it while I was in grade school and it carried on throughout the years from university to the workforce. I had to learn to stand up
for myself because not everyone knows what it’s like for people who have a disability and what one is capable of doing.
“I would strongly urge any young people who have disabilities to learn to start advocating for themselves and talking with others about it.
It will help make any transitions that need to be done easier. I know I personally wouldn’t have been able to do and experience all I have if I didn’t know how to advocate for myself.”
Yelinek has a strong support base, which he accredits to his parents. 
Their devotion and determination have helped him to have the desire to achieve everything he possibly can. 
“My parents, Larry and Evelyn, have literally been there and helped me through everything,” said Yelinek. “They’ve gone above and beyond what most parents have had to for their children and I’m so thankful to have them.”