Delaina Pacitto loves colours all around her. The Seneca Fashion Arts student has purple highlights in her hair and her friend Alyssa Atherton, a fellow student in the same program, sports a full head of pink.
“I can see that this is baby pink and this is hot pink,” Pacitto said, holding Atherton’s hair inches away from her face. “I can see her headphones and glasses, and that she’s wearing a nice black sweater. I can tell she’s excited.”
Pacitto gets excited herself when describing silhouettes and colours she sees. “It’s just a bit blurry,” she said. “It’s like taking a photo and it’s slightly out of focus.”
By definition, Pacitto is legally blind. Born visually impaired, she had a surgery for lazy eye in Grade 2 and subsequently spent her childhood and teenage years in and out of Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, first with coloboma and then glaucoma. Recently, at St. Michael’s Hospital, Pacitto was treated for cataract.
“It’s interesting,” the 22-year-old said of cataract. “I was the youngest person in the room.”
Two years ago, Pacitto chose to come to Seneca because the classrooms at Newnham Campus offer lots of natural light, which helps her to see. At the time, her parents entertained her career choice in fashion, thinking she’d get over it in a week.
“That’s what they thought, too, when they bought me my first sewing machine in Grade 7 and I made a Christmas jacket for a teddy bear,” Pacitto recalled. “I mean, I get it, it’s not the most practical field for my disadvantage. It’s like saying you want to go horseback riding but there’s no ranch nearby.”
That being said, Pacitto said her parents now realize she has the talent for fashion.
“My mom likes to say that it’s meant to be after all because when I got lost for the first time at three years old, I crawled into a shoe store,” she said.
Through Seneca’s Counselling & Accessibility Services, Pacitto is paired up with a tutor who helps her with her classes. Atherton is Pacitto’s third tutor at Seneca. The two spend on average seven hours a week together, working on pattern-making and studying fashion history.
“We distract each other very well — we are becoming really good friends,” Pacitto said. “I’ve finally made a friend who’s in my age group.”
Atherton, 19, said she jumped on the unique tutoring opportunity when a professor emailed her about it.
“I was intrigued,” she said. “I get to teach someone while I’m learning and that’s really the best way to learn. She also makes me laugh all the time. She’s very optimistic. It has been an eye-opening experience for me. It’s more inspiring because if she can do this, why can’t I?”
For pattern-making, Atherton accompanies Pacitto to class and helps her by demonstrating up close what the professor draws in the front of the class. Instead of pencils, Pacitto uses black pens and markers. To help Pacitto draw a curve line, Atherton would put her fingers, nails painted for visibility, on the paper between two points while Pacitto draws a short line with her ruler. They’d repeat the process until a curve line is formed.
For reading, Pacitto puts text under a closed-circuit television or a video magnifier at home.
“I work slower — I measure twice and cut once,” Pacitto said, chuckling. “But I do have ideas and I like to make stuff. I just have to find a different technique and use different equipment.”
Also, learn at a different pace. Pacitto and Atherton came to Seneca at the same time and were in the same sewing class in their first year. While Pacitto is taking on a reduced course load and working on first-year courses, Atherton is finishing her second year.
“I’m going a lot slower than most, but it’s good,” Pacitto said. “I don’t want to miss anything. I don’t want to rush it. I want to enjoy it. I’m having a good time at school. The professors are nice and fun. I think of it as a challenge. I have a lot of challenges already, so it makes no difference to have one more. Whatever you don’t have, your brain makes up for it.”