Blind Advocate Triumphs as a Hockey Pioneer
Josh Schneider is a former teacher and student-athlete whose life took an unexpected turn due to an optic nerve condition. Years after receiving his diagnosis, Josh transformed his passion for sports into a platform for advocacy. Today, he thrives as a blind hockey player, defying expectations and leading two foundations committed to raising awareness and providing support to blind hockey players.
By Simone Robinson
Serving as a special education teacher and coach for an extended duration, Josh Schneider, originally from New Jersey, contributed significantly to his community. Although he experienced perfect vision, Josh noticed a change in his vision at the age of 30. He began seeing floaters before experiencing vision distortion one afternoon in April 2012.
Shortly after, Josh, who had never visited an eye doctor before, sought the expertise of a local optometrist. After a series of examinations, he was referred to Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia to rule out multiple sclerosis due to the irregularities observed in his optic nerves.
“Later in the year around, December, my vision was getting really blurry,” Josh recalls. “I was coaching basketball at this time, but I was missing free throw after free throw to the point where even the kids were making comments. I knew something was off, so I went back to Wills Eye for the second time, and I began a steroid treatment for the inflammation in my optic nerve.”
Following a series of episodes marked by blurriness and restricted visual field, Josh started to experience a gradual loss of vision in his left eye, ultimately reaching a total loss by the end of the following year.
“I credit my doctor for saving my vision,” he says. “Since then, I’ve been on an infusion medication similar to chemotherapy, so over the last seven years, my vision has been stable. I've never recovered the field, but I feel like in my perception, I've recovered clarity in what I see. Because I lost my vision rapidly while teaching, it came to the point where I had to make the decision to retire based on student safety and the school climate we live in now.”
Upon retiring from teaching in April 2018, Josh found the transition to retirement particularly challenging. In an effort to find purpose and make a positive impact, he took on a volunteer role with the National Court Appointed Special Advocate, dedicating his time to advocating for children in foster care.
“We were basically the voice of the child in the court system, and I found that really rewarding,” he says.
After coming across an advertisement for New York Metro Blind Hockey, Josh decided to join, immersing himself in ice hockey and actively engaging with the blind hockey community through social media and local events. It was during this time that he connected with Drew, forming a friendship based on shared ideals and a common understanding of what was needed to propel the growth of the sport.
“We started the Dented Puck podcast during COVID to raise awareness, and that turned into us starting our own tournaments,” he says. “After we held our first tournament in Chicago in July 2021, my immediate reaction was that we had to start a charity. So, over the last three years, what we started for awareness morphed into our Dented Puck and the HockEYE Guy foundations, and that has been growing the support for the sport in the country.”
While the Dented Puck Foundation is dedicated to raising awareness and offering support to the blind hockey community, the HockEYE Guy Foundation focuses more on creating travel solutions and resources for blind players.
“I think the thing with being in charge of awareness and growth for something in its infancy is that it's amorphous,” says Josh. “You're moving with it and letting things grow to see where you can fill in the gaps to help make an impact and grow your footprint. What we found with raising awareness at these events and how we were received at previous events really showed the scope of what we could do if we reached into the hockey community.”
In collaboration with the NHL, the Foundations have planned a series of Hockey for the Blind events in North Jersey, scheduled from February 15-18, 2024. This includes an awareness game during the intermission of the Devils versus LA Kings game on February 15th, in addition to a charity game hosted at the American Dream Mall on Saturday, February 17th.
Josh and the Dented Puck Foundation are in the principal filming of a documentary to increase awareness about blind hockey players. Additionally, he's working towards the goal of solidifying blind hockey's status as a Paralympic sport by 2030.
For more information about the Hockey for the Blind event, contact Josh at Josh@TheDentedPuck.com.
Book your tickets by visiting the Dented Puck website.