Of all of the many facets of Lawrence Euteneier’s career-lobbyist, inventor, lecturer, dragon boat racer, fisherman-the term “match maker” seems the most appro priate description of the man. But Euteneier is a unique sort of matchmaker. His work is done on the water. He catches fish.
Euteneier is the founder of Blind Fishing Boat, a service that matches sighted fishermen with fishermen with visual impairments and allows both to enjoy the experi ence of hitting the water with someone else who loves to fish. Upon the launch of his service five years ago, Euteneier received positive feedback from many in the disability community, and found major support from sighted fishermen who were eager to help others.
Euteneier views his program as one with benefits for fishermen and fisherwomen of all experiences and backgrounds. “It’s more like a dating service than an act of charity,” Euteneier said. “If a partnership works out, maybe the two become ‘exclusive, but there’s no shame in being a ‘player’ and going fishing with different people.
Blind since age eight, Euteneier has a resume more sim ilar to that of a senator than to that of a fisherman. The Canadian innovator was instrumental in developing Web-4-All, the world’s first computer capable of man aging personal assistive technology based on an individ ual’s preferences. For his tireless work in the field of accessibility, Euteneier received Canada’s prestigious Federal Public Servant Achievement of Excellence Award in 2003, the First Lady of Taiwan Award in 2004, and the Meritorious Service Medal in 2006.
Euteneier also served as Canada’s Access Technology Advisor from 1997 to 2000, and has documented innova tions for people with disabilities throughout Sweden and Canada. In his free time, he participates as a member of a competitive dragon boat team comprised of people with visual impairments, and competes annually in a car race to raise money for the training of guide dogs.
Despite his busy schedule and varied interests, Eutencier maintains that fishing is his truest love. “I’ve tried a lot of sports over the years,” Euteneier said, “and there is nothing that compares to fishing, in terms of built-in accessibility. You don’t need bobbers to fish, and tying your own hooks is really quite simple. Fishing is mostly about the art of feeling the bite, and who better than to detect subtle differences with his hands than someone without sight?”
Euteneier, who has fished his entire life, says he has no reservations about going after some big and formidable catch. “I’ve caught monster northern pike under the mid night sun in Canada’s Arctic, ancient white sturgeon in the Fraser River, and bull shark off Florida’s coast,” Euteneier said. “I even spent my summers working as a cod fisher off Cape Breton Island. When we’d pull a large number of cod, it’d be up to me to drive the dory back to the harbor while the captain and his son cleaned and washed the fish at the back of the boat. The captain figured it was safer for me to drive than to handle the razor sharp knives.”
Euteneier’s experience as a master fisherman has rewarded him with a deep well of cherished memories, and he hopes that Blind Fishing Boat allows other fish ermen to develop unforgettable experiences of their own. He began the initiative with the specific goal of providing opportunities for people with visual impair ments to fish and meet others in the sport. The venture arranges recreational outings as well as competitions for fishermen. Euteneier also maintains a blog that provides tips for fishermen and information about the sport.
“The biggest concem I hear from other people without sight who fish is that they have trouble finding fishing buddies,” Euteneier said. “No one will say no to your face if you ask him or her to take you fishing, but you may never run into that person again. Many people are either too busy or maybe feel they don’t have enough information to fish safely with someone who is without sight.”
Despite the obvious differences between fishermen with and without sight, Euteneier emphasizes that all people. interested in the sport share a common bond. “Everyone wants to fish with someone who fishes at his or her own level, or better.” Euteneier said. “Everyone, sighted or not, wants to enjoy the day on the water and maybe learn a few things. Many sighted people believe, wrong ly, that fishing with someone without sight is going to involve a lot of time and attention.”
Euteneier says this common misconception has inspired him to challenge fishermen with visual impairments to get better, to gain more knowledge about the sport, and to show off their skills. He calls for people with visual impairments to build a strong reputation of competence as fishermen, and encourages: fishermen without visual impairments to recognize: those with visual impairments are their equals at the sport and, in some cases, can be superior.
As the landscape of this popular sport continues to widen, Euteneier works to spread his inclusive message by writing, competitive fishing, attending exhibitions and leading seminars on the topic of fishing. His efforts to advance the technology of accessible fishing have helped the field develop into a worldwide initiative. Despite his efforts, Euteneier recognizes that technolog ical advances don’t often happen overnight. For many people with disabilities, Euteneier says, technological evolution can feel a bit like a rollercoaster.
“At first computers could speak everything under the old DOS system,” Euteneier said. “Then, when Apple Mac intoshes and Windows came out, everyone without sight who was making a living by way of a computer suffered a setback. Windows and Macs were eventually made to speak, but most of the new applications coming online in the workplace today have not been built to function properly with screen readers. So it’s been a downhill ride for the past five years, with barriers in the form of elec tronic applications that are designed to streamline work flow and eliminate paperwork.”
Eutencier points out that many of these lurches and setbacks in the world of technology parallel the chal lenges faced by fishermen throughout history. “For centuries, fishermen living along Newfoundland’s coast navigated their dories without electronic aids, under extreme low visibility conditions caused by fog.” Eutencier said. “They obviously made it back to their home ports often enough to keep them going out. They navigated using their senses of feel, smell, and sound. They made use of the feel of the different waves as the depth below the boat grew shallower, the sound of the surf breaking on shore, the smell of spruce trees and chimney smoke as they approached land. It’s possible for anyone to develop these skills.”
Euteneier uses a similar set of observational skills to navigate his own boat. He’s aided by the fact that boating and fishing technologies have advanced over the centuries: depth finders, directional devices, radars, and of course visibility assistants all play a part in today’s angling experience. But Eutenieir says such devices have not yet been adequately adapted for people with visual impairments.
“There is a strong interest, worldwide, among people with vision loss in access to marine electronics,” Euteneier said. “People with sight have been operating boats for centuries while ‘blind’ at night or in situations in which there’s low visibility. In fact, the ability to navigate while ‘blind’ remains a requirement for securing certain classes of captain certifications. When on the water, sighted people can only see about 15 miles before the horizon dips. This means setting a course, monitoring progress, scanning for hazards both underwater and beyond the horizon translate into working under conditions in which seeing what lies ahead isn’t always possible.”
With the help of his Blind Fishing Boat initiative, Euteneier is intent on reframing the notion of what is or is not possible on the water. In 2010, Blind Fishing Boat went to 17 fishing competitions, earning first place at one and ranking among the top five at four others. Through a series of seminars, Euteneier has brought the initiative’s message of personal empowerment to more than 460 people with vision loss or impairment. He’s personally taught 16 people how to fish, or how to improve their fishing skills. He’s worked to get the story of Blind Fishing Boat’s published and promoted to thousands of people who may otherwise have never known that the sport of fishing is a possibility for them.
In the end, Euteneier emphasizes that those possibilities—possibilities for fishermen with visual impairments—are exactly the same as the possibilities of people without visual impairments. The common goal for all fisherman, Euteneier said, is “hooking the big one” and telling an even bigger story.
“The most exciting part of fishing is the moment the fish bites,” Euteneier said. “Whether you’re fishing for sunfish or sharks, there’s nothing like feeling that first contact. Reeling that fish in, and being able to feel it in your hands and smell it, and to know you are taking part in a ritual that goes back to the beginning of time, leaves one feeling fulfilled in a way that is truly unique.”
by Josh Pate