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Both hearing and vision loss won’t keep Carrie Moffatt down

First-year UVic law student takes life by the horns
|Written By Elan Ma
Both hearing and vision loss won’t keep Carrie Moffatt down
Carrie Moffatt has just completed her first year of law school at the University of Victoria.

While Carrie Moffatt is just finishing up her first year of law at the University of Victoria, she’s already winning accolades. Her instructors are hailing her as a sort of paragon of the field; a complete natural who speaks legalese like it’s her mother tongue.

“She’s excelled superbly, she’s at or near the top of her first-year class,” says an enthusiastic Benjamin Berger, a professor of criminal law, evidence, and law and religion at the university.

Berger met Moffatt before her foray into the legal realm and is thoroughly impressed with how easily she adjusted to the fast-paced environment. “The most impressive thing is that she made the decision to come to law because of interest, and she’s turned it into success. You can see that in the classroom, she takes the work seriously, thinks carefully, and engages modestly and sharply.”

The professor describes her as a businesswoman and an artist, as Moffatt started at UVic with a double major in political science and environmental studies. She used her degree to land a non-profit job, but then decided to attend Camosun College for a communications diploma where she learned video, radio, photography, and journalism skills. After she hung the certificate on the wall, she dived into government communications before giving in to her entrepreneurial itch and starting her own communications service. On the side, she made glass jewelry while cramped in her glass-fusing studio, which she somehow fit into her 550-square-foot condo that she shares with her husband.

But she became dispirited over the amount of work required to keep her relevant in a saturated market, and even pumping out glass trinkets in her spare time lost its fun. That’s when she began to play with an idea that had germinated years ago.

“Law was always in the back of my mind from a very early age,” says Moffatt. “I resisted applying for law school for quite a while because I heard so many people becoming unhappy or disillusioned with the profession. I wanted to make sure that I was going for the right reasons, and had a clear picture of where I might head after the degree, so that I have a positive experience.”

As well, writing news releases and speeches weren’t going to fulfil her intellectual needs for life. “I have a deep interest in societal issues and injustice. I read voraciously, enjoy writing, research, and analytical thinking, and I felt the timing was right for some rigorous training and academic punishment!”

It seems obvious that Moffatt is driven with a passion, one that apparently lurked half-asleep within her for about 11 years.

“Carrie’s interest in the field of law began well before I met her,” says Marc Bavin, the husband who happily squashed himself into that packed condo with his wife during her artistic period. “She never spoke in the way of ‘I want to become a lawyer,’ but rather about her curiosity and interest in a broad range of issues.”

Those issues included everything that could fit under the headings of human rights, environmental issues, and international conflict. The aspiring law student had kept all of her digits on the world’s pulse when it came to such matters, even participating in a moot in high school. Couple all of that with an old habit of dithering over law school applications (something that was especially present after she earned her BA) and it seemed it was only a matter of time until Moffatt finally embraced her calling.

Now happily reinstalled at UVic, Moffatt is an enthusiastic and engaged student. Besides keeping up with her studies, she actively participates in clubs and events that deal with the issues she holds so dear. The first-year student is the vice president of the LawAbility Club, a student organization to help educate others on people with disabilities.

“I organized a ‘discussing disability’ event to help law students learn how to approach people with disabilities, because it can be such an awkward and sensitive topic for people,” she says. “One of my goals is to try to ease the fears and unspoken assumptions that surround disability.”

Moffatt has been diagnosed with Usher Syndrome, a dual sensory impairment that affects her hearing and sight. Moffatt deals with a moderate version of the disease, where one experiences medium to severe hearing loss from birth, followed by loss of vision that starts in the early teens.

“When I was 16, I started to notice that I was having trouble seeing at night,” says Moffatt. “It didn’t seem unusual at first, since everybody has some difficulty at night. Then, in my early 20s, I realized that I was missing things — knocking a glass off a table, or having trouble keeping up with someone while I walked beside them.

“I was finally diagnosed at the age of 24.”

Right before she began law school, Moffatt was declared legally blind because she had less than 20 degrees of vision left.

“It’s like looking through two toilet paper rolls,” she says.

“Having the combination of both hearing and vision loss is very challenging, unique, and rare. . . . It’s exhausting, because I’m constantly straining to use my residual sight and I’m trying to hear with imperfect hearing aids.

“It’s easy to let it isolate you, because it affects communication so much. I’ve also had to learn how to cope with people’s assumptions and misconstrued perceptions of me, since I started using a white cane before school.”

Because of her condition, Moffatt gave up driving, soccer, running, and myriad other pastimes. One might think that this might have stunted her independence, but the self-described upbeat and stubborn woman pushed past her impairment with the help of her supportive friends, family, and husband. “I’m really looking forward to getting a guide dog,” she quips.

If she put away her white cane, no one would be the wiser, and considering how she lives her life, Moffatt proves that a disability is not the defining characteristic of her person. But it certainly provides an outlet for all the energy she’s got packed inside of her.

Last year, Moffatt organized the first Cycle for Sight Victoria event and raised $12,000 for the Foundation Fighting Blindness. This year, because of her busy school schedule — even enthusiastic go-getters get swamped — she settled instead for training and competing in the 110-kilometre ride on a tandem bike with her husband. Besides that, she swims more than two kilometres three times a week with a para-masters program so she can compete in a long-distance swimming event (to be held this summer), and will be working with the Borden Ladner Gervais LLP research fellowship with a professor.

Moffatt can be described as many things. An adventurer — she’s travelled to Croatia, Costa Rica, Panama, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia to name a few — an environmentalist, an advocate, a wife, a caring friend, and a much-admired first-year law student ranked near the top of her class.

When professor Berger is asked about the star pupil’s potential future plans, he laughs and says Moffatt will become “whatever she wants.”

“Knowing Carrie, I can’t imagine that it won’t be in a strong helping role. I think she has the ability and the mind to do anything she wants. She’s a wonderful speaker, and I see her being a very powerful advocate for whatever causes she finds herself working for.”

Click here to view Moffatt's documentary for the Foundation Fighting Blindness