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Making her own path

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Not one to be deterred by limited sight, Central Point native Ashley Bulebar was unimpressed with the lack of employers who were open to hiring a blind person and her trusty service dog Mowgli.

Bulebar was determined not to settle, so she struck out on her own and opened her own massage therapy business as a way to both earn a living and help others.

Bulebar, 27, has been working as a massage therapist for over three years, and in January she opened a studio inside Lotus Hair Body and Soul in downtown Medford.

Born with achromatopsia, a disorder that leaves one in 33,000 Americans with little to no function of the cone cells of the retina, Bulebar is extremely sensitive to light, she’s colorblind and has 20-200 vision. She can see better in extremely dim lighting and can only see about 10 feet in front of her.

Bulebar’s mother, Sheri Myers of Central Point, said her daughter’s eyes started to shake side-to-side when she was about 3 months old. After visiting Oregon Health & Science University, UCLA and Berkeley, Bulebar was given the diagnosis.

“At first it was thought she had a different eye condition and that she would be eventually black blind by her later teens. We thought that for seven years, and it never came to be,” said Myers.

Another diagnosis that never came to fruition was any notion of being disabled.

Myers said her soft-spoken daughter might be unable to see blues and greens or handle bright lights, but the only thing she isn’t “able” to do is grasp the concept of “can’t.”

In her teens, Bulebar found a love for art and painting with her father, played a slew of sports — including volleyball in middle school and golf during high school thanks to a little help from teammates — and even gave bungee jumping a try at an amusement park during her senior year.

“The only time I have ever seen her down about it was when she turned 16 and couldn’t drive. Other than that, nothing gets in her way of doing what she wants to do,” said Myers.

Bulebar admitted discouragement about the aspect of finding employment as an adult while dealing with “other people’s perceptions.”

Soon after graduating from Cascade Christian High in 2010, she realized she’d be better off running her own business rather than settling for a job she didn’t want to have.

“There have been a lot of misconceptions on what I can do. Sometimes I find that people are surprised that I even have a job, or that I can see much better at night than during the day. The hardest obstacle was definitely finding a job with Mowgli,” she said.

“I’ve had employers not respond back to my emails after I tell them I have a service dog. Others seem nervous and concerned about Mowgli during interviews. When I was starting classes and was deciding what I wanted to do, my husband suggested massage therapy. I ended up really loving it.”

A graduate of Rogue Community College, Bulebar began working as a massage therapist three years ago and has a loyal clientele. She specializes in Swedish massage, deep tissue and cupping.

It turns out, she said, working in a dimly lit room with her four-legged best friend nearby was a perfect fit.

“Even after I graduated, it was still nerve-wracking because I didn’t know if people would hire me with a guide dog, even though I went to school for this,” Bulebar said.

“So it’s been very satisfying to feel like I’m serving a purpose with people and helping them to feel better. And Mowgli helps me get around, back and forth to work, and he brings a nice energy to the room, too.”

Bulebar said she was always open to whatever career options came her way and didn’t factor blindness into her decision-making.

“I just never let being blind stop me from doing anything. There didn’t seem to be a lot of things I couldn’t do if I really tried,” Bulebar said.

“Now that I found this, I couldn’t picture myself doing anything else.”

Online, www.facebook.com/ashleybulebarmassage/

Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com

Jamie Lusch/Mail TribuneAshley Bulebar, a partially blind massage therapist, works at her business in Medford on Thursday.
Ashley Bulebar, a partially blind massage therapist, owns a business in Medfor.