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 Article of Interest - Canada

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Blind Teen Makes History
by Peter Power, Toronto Star, May 28, 2003
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Roisin Hartnett, 13, and her guide dog Penny walk the aisles of the Ontario Legislature yesterday, Roisin's first day as a legislative page. The blind Grade 8 student at Oakville's St. Matthew school managed to memorize the names of government and opposition MPPs and their seats in an hour.

Oakville student Legislature's first Guide dog Penny rises to occasion
by Richard Brennan, Queen's Park Bureau

Thirteen-year-old Roisin Hartnett and her guide dog Penny have taken Queen's Park by storm with a pleasant smile and a happy wag.

The first blind legislative page and her four-legged companion of one year are causing a stir in the halls of the Ontario Legislature building.

"There are 103 seats ... in the house and I had to memorize all their names and where they sit ... and I learned my way around the building," said Roisin, a Grade 8 student at Oakville's St. Matthew school.

She managed to memorize both government and opposition sides in an hour.

Roisin and Penny were put to the test for the first time yesterday in the legislative chamber - with television cameras running - when they had to deliver notes and bills and perform other duties, all the time having to manoeuvre around desks and people.

It went off without a hitch. Even Penny, part black Labrador and part Bernese mountain dog, waited until Question Period was over before having to take a stroll outside.

Roisin acknowledged she was a bit worried that her blindness might affect her chances of getting into the page program for Grade 7 and 8 students, which is very competitive.

"I kind of went: `I probably won't get accepted because I'm blind but I will try anyway,'" she said.

Speaker Gary Carr is glad she did.

"She is a very brave and courageous person ... she did a great job and we're all very proud of her," he said, adding, "and, of course, Penny is doing a great job as well."

Roisin is expected to do everything the other pages do, except maybe deliver glasses of water. And even then, in a pinch, she's prepared to do that, Carr said.

Roisin said she has enjoyed the experience of meeting the politicians and working with the other pages.

Her biggest problem is getting Penny, who likes to sleep, to rise to the occasion.

As for becoming a politician herself, Roisin giggled and said maybe.

Penny didn't seem to care one way or the other.


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