The Checkered Eye Project and Orbis Canada Team Up To Support Global Eye Health

Living with low vision, Libby Thaw had always wished there was a symbol that would help people recognize the condition. Unlike those who are blind, people with low vision still have some of their sight and don’t always need a white cane to navigate.

Living with low vision makes it challenging to do day-to-day tasks, and having to explain and ask for support when needed can be frustrating for those who live with it.

That inspired Libby Thaw to start The Checkered Eye Project. “In my mid-30s, I realized I was not the only one for whom a white cane was not always the best symbol,” she explains. “I was chatting with a few people, and a volunteer for a service provider for the blind in Canada said that there had been requests for some sort of badge. I thought that was a great idea.”

The Checkered Eye Project

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Unable to find something that was already being used, Thaw designed the checkered eye symbol and worked to find an organization who would partner with her on making the symbol accessible and understood. When she struggled with finding a collaborator, she once again went about it on her own, making and selling pins, pendants, stickers and patches that say Low Vision alongside the checkered eye symbol. The project has been well-received and continues to grow, allowing Thaw to register The Checkered Eye Project as a not for profit corporation and use any proceeds to support other eye health organizations, including Orbis Canada.

The checkered eye symbol doesn’t replace the white cane, but instead offers an alternative for those who have low vision. “There are people who use walkers or wheelchairs who have low vision and it makes it hard to use an ID cane,” says Thaw.

Libby Thaw

Founder, The Checkered Eye Project

I know for myself, if I’m shop­ping and I walk up to a counter, my white cane is hid­den behind the counter. If they don’t see me walk up, I look per­fect­ly well-sight­ed. Hav­ing some­thing high­er up that says I have low vision is very handy.”

Thaw has now seen the project grow beyond Canada, as individuals in other countries, including a group in Thailand, have adopted the symbol. She has also seen increased awareness in Canada recently, as the organization’s PSAs have run frequently on television. The response is an indication for Thaw that the project is filling an unmet need. “If you have low vision, and you appear fully sighted, that carries its own difficulties. There are unique problems for people who have low vison and appear to be sighted.”

A long-time advocate for Orbis Canada, Thaw has participated in Orbis Canada's national fundraising event, Plane Pull for Sight, and is also a donor. Now, as The Checkered Eye Project grows, she is excited to increase her support for Orbis.

Libby Thaw

The Checkered Eye Project

In Cana­da, if we lose our sight com­plete­ly, or even just a lit­tle bit, we still have enough sup­port that we can live a pret­ty darn good life. If some­one lives in a resource poor coun­try, just los­ing a bit of sight can real­ly harm their life in a big way. The Check­ered Eye Project is not about cur­ing blind­ness or mak­ing infor­ma­tion more acces­si­ble, it’s about smooth­ing out some inter­per­son­al rela­tion­ship and about sen­si­tiv­i­ty. If by doing that for our­selves and spend­ing a few bucks here and there we can also fund actu­al life-chang­ing efforts, I’m excit­ed about that.”

For Thaw, Plane Pull for Sight was a way to raise awareness but it was also a really emotional experience. She reached out to the media and shared her story about how a grandmother with low vison would be pulling the plane, then created her own hand-made costume to wear to the event to get attention and get people talking about the checkered eye symbol.

At the event, she was a team of one. “I figured, I’ll wear a crazy outfit and once I get there, I’ll talk to everybody I can and I’ll say ‘I’m gonna go up there and pull the plane myself. On the off chance I can’t do it, will you help me?’ And every single person said yes! One guy said, ‘yep, hang on a sec,’ and came back with ten friends. It’s just so sweet. It’s much like the checkered eye. I’m kind of doing it by myself, but I actually have all kinds of support.”

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