Joseph Sehwani started Dreamscape Foundation, a 501c3 nonprofit foundation, because of his developing Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy (LHON), a rare visual impairment, in high school at age 16. Chris Girsch, Dreamscape’s social media/blog manager and longtime friend, witnessed firsthand Joe’s worsening condition, as well as the conceptual stage of Dreamscape. Joe and Chris have been friends since high school, and they both realized that it doesn’t take much to make a difference.
Only employing as early as 2017, Dreamscape has been consistently pushing out blog posts and video game charity streams. Chris has witnessed over a year now, Dreamscape showing a complete night and day from when he has started. His daily goals are promotion and spreading the word. “A lot of it is catering to people like Joe, who seem like they don’t believe they will have any relief, or support through anything,” Chris stated.
Making the Difference
Girsch closely witnessed Sehwani’s journey and how he overcame his struggles, starting with stigma. While Joe’s vision isn’t 100% gone, he started noticing others had a lot of confusion surrounding the topic. Arriving to class equipped with a cane, the stigma was at its peak attending high school. The soon charity founder felt as though people felt bad for him, or assumed he wasn’t as intelligent. Sehwani is not one to admire pity, so it was difficult for him to adjust to that kind of reaction. His coping method was to crack a joke about it early on in meeting someone to help clear the air.
For Chris, he noticed that people didn’t understand that Joe still had some vision, at the time equipped with a walking cane and wearing prescription sunglasses. There’s no way anyone could know. Chris and Joe were becoming good friends six months before Joe told him he was becoming blind, and it was a bit of a shock. Chris witnessed the evolution of people changing around them, changing their dialect, and treating Joe like he was fragile. It came out of not understanding how to treat or talk to someone with a disability, which is just like talking to everyone else. That stigma was something both experienced. Joe was always very social, calling up friends to go to the movies and hang out, so he got to see who his real friends really were.
Sharing The Dream
Part of Dreamscape Foundation’s mission became educating the uninformed, as well as supporting the disabled through accessible technology. As for Joe’s LHON, it’s a gray area where he can look at his phone. In order to see, he takes advantage of using the accessibility options found on the iPhone. All while using accessibility every day, Dreamscape wants to educate people that visual impairments are more than just being blind or not blind. There is a mix of in-betweens, such as with LHON. Resolving confusion could also end some stigma for people, in their receptiveness of those with visual impairments. It’s not the same for everyone.
Not only does Dreamscape help the disabled, one such story found our charity support a young girl with cancer. Although, Sehwani’s advice to any nonprofit starting is to find a niche and not take on everything. With that said, ever since Joseph’s grandfather passed of cancer, he was glad to help someone with cancer. Dreamscape stays open to various needs in the future. As the charity matured, they found their niche. However, their open-mindedness to helping others in general, saved that young girl with cancer. She wouldn’t have gotten treatment without Dreamscape’s help.
According to Chris, “We’ve done so many fundraisers; Some for St. Jude, we’ve supported orphanages, and second chance homes for kids in the state of New Jersey. All while leading up to the Giving Season (Holidays) working with Toys for Tots and Salvation Army.”
A Fresh Start
In terms of last year’s accomplishments, Joe says “I would say another big thing that we accomplished over the year would definitely be establishing the Dreamscape Foundation website and kind of really pushing that out there.” Sehwani personally works on the website, and states “It was less of rebranding and more of building context in what we’re doing.”
Dreamscape upheld their commitments with schools in Jersey, supporting accessibility school programs. Here at Dreamscape, accessibility means independence for everyone. When Joe was starting the new website, User1st and Dreamscape partnered up. User1st is a company who helped teach him a lot about accessible software for people with disabilities. Joe then returned the favor, by supporting their web accessibility initiative. Through User1st, Sehwani started reaching out to Universities to help disabled students have all the access they need.
Before Chris was faced with Joe’s visual impairment, he admits that he did not think too much about accessibility. He did not know the full measure of its importance to people with disabilities. As someone without a disability, he says “it taught [him] a lot!” Dreamscape current campaign is helping twins Justin & Kenny Jongsma who both have LHON, like Dreamscape owner Joseph Sehwani. Brand new accessible technology for the blind called eSight eyewear has changed the game. The glasses like device adjusts visual impairments and corrects the vision loss. According to Chris and Joe, everyone deserves independence through accessibility.
“There really is no nonprofit for accessibility,” Joe says. Together, Joe and Chris want Dreamscape to be out there and to have its own niche. Not just another visual impairment or blind charity, cancer charity, etc. but we want to leave a unique footprint on the world of accessibility.