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Mahadeo Sukhai

Vice President of Research & International Affairs and Chief Accessibility Officer
Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB)
Mahadeo Sukhai
Mahadeo Sukhai
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Mahadeo Sukhai is the Vice President of Research & International Affairs and Chief Accessibility Officer for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB).

About me

I was born/grew up in: I was born in Guyana, grew up in the Caribbean, came to Canada for high school.

I now live in: Kingston, ON

I completed my training/education at: 

 

What I do at work

In my work for the CNIB, I run two departments. I am the head of research and the chief accessibility officer. While these are overlapping roles, they are very different jobs and require different skills and abilities. In both roles, I work with people and make sure we do the things that we need to do. No two days are the same. Some days I might be writing grant proposals. On other days I might be designing a study or a survey.

In my research role, I lead a team of researchers who report to me. As in any scientific research, our goal is to generate knowledge; to learn things no one had learned before. Our research is on issues related to vision loss. For example, we might want to understand how a student with vision loss experiences post-secondary education. To do this we generate data, analyze it and draw conclusions.

My accessibility role is linked to the research role in that we use the outcomes of our research to improve the accessibility and inclusion of blind and vision-impaired people. We develop resources and conduct workshops to teach people how to create accessible and welcoming work environments.

My career path is

When I was in high school, I wanted to be a physics teacher. My physics teacher suggested that I should become a university professor instead. To do that I knew you needed to go to university and get a PhD so I set out to achieve that. 

After I completed my PhD, I did some post-doctoral work. I applied for positions at different institutions but did not get anything. My post-doctoral fellowships were in health care and, eventually, I ending up working in the health care sector as a cancer researcher.

During this time, I continued to think about and explore issues related to students with disabilities that I had started as a graduate student. I was interested in applying bioinformatics techniques that I had leaned in biology to human data. I studied how disabled students experienced post-secondary education and what was the quality of the education they received. I was pursuing two careers at the same time. The first was as a scientific researcher studying cancer. The other was as a researcher investigating the lived experience of people with disabilities. When CNIB offered me a job I took it as allowed me to continue my interests. In fact, I have combined those two, parallel careers into the one I have today.

I have experienced many challenges during my career path. Most have centered on the fact that I was born blind. When I started out, no one believed that person who was blind could do what I wanted to do. It was hard to change perceptions but I kept at it. When I graduated with my PhD in genetics, I was the first person in world, who was blind from birth, to achieve this. This meant that no one knew how to “deal with me”; I didn’t fit most expectations. In my role at CNIB, I’m continuing my efforts to change peoples’ perceptions and expectations of what a blind or visually impaired person can do.

I am motivated by

My main motivation, as a scientist, is the chance to know something others have not known. I enjoy asking questions that others have not asked or have not asked in same way. I love using information to solve problems.

How I affect people’s lives

My job is to understand the quality of life and the lived experience of blind people in Canada. With this understanding, I am working to help created inclusive and welcoming workplaces.

Outside of work I

I like to cook and to read. I engage in winter sports (cross-country ski) and in the summer, I like to hike and swim.

My advice to others

You never know where future will lead. People think you need have a plan but you need to realize that things change. If love science do it. You never know where it will lead or which doors it will open for you in the future.

When I was a student, I enjoyed:
  • Computer Science
  • Geography
  • History
  • Math
  • Science
When I was a student, I would have described myself as someone who:
  • Engaged in volunteer activities
  • Liked reading
  • Felt great satisfaction in getting good grades
  • Always knew exactly what I wanted to do

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