When South Australia’s power goes out, Adelaide goes into meltdown but for some, relative darkness is an ongoing reality. Our blind residents ‘see’ the world from a unique perspective: through touch, sound, smell and taste.
Christian Stafford makes eye contact when he shakes your hand. “That freaks everyone out,” he chuckles. “I’ve got retinitis pigmentosa (RP) which is basically tunnel vision. I have about two or three degrees [of vision] right in the middle. Approximately one to two percent.”
He was diagnosed when he was three. “Mum noticed me tripping over my toys. It slowly gets worse and I started using a cane. I’ve had Isla for two-and-a-half years.”
The match was made through the RSB. “She was the naughty one of the group.”
Rigorous training (for man and beast) ensured the right fit. “She’s still pretty naughty. I wouldn’t have it any other way… she has a real personality.”
Together they explore Adelaide. “All the routes she does regularly have names. She stops at roads or obstacles, finds a seat, the button or the escalator, the car or the bar.” He laughs. “Our local is the Highway Hotel on Anzac Highway and the chefs there always give her bowl of water and a carrot.”
Christian lives in Netley and is an adventurous sort. He particularly enjoys fishing with mates. “I can’t drive a car but legally I can drive a boat as long as there’s someone with a license in the boat.”
His iPhone is a saviour. “The accessibility with Apple is fantastic. I invert the colours. On Facebook for instance, I’ll have black on white so there’s less glare. With three clicks you can make [the display] bigger.”
When he eats out at a restaurant he googles the online menu and zooms in. He says the standard of tactile aids are fantastic in Adelaide. “I was in Tokyo about six months ago and they’re getting ready for the Olympics, so the universal access is huge over there. Adelaide does a fairly good job with that kind of stuff.” Especially when compared to the likes of New York City and Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh. “It’s a nightmare. New York because of the foot traffic and Ho Chi Minh because there are motorbikes everywhere. It’s intense.” Next on his list is Africa and maybe the French Alps. “I’ve done a bit of snow skiing. I love it. People find that interesting sometimes. I obviously follow someone down the slope… I don’t just go for it!”
Help a stranger out
Be My Eyes is a free iPhone app connecting vision impaired people across the globe with sighted people. More than 544,000 volunteers are signed up to help 37,600-plus blind people with questions. How does it work? Simple. A call comes through to your phone and the person at the end of the live video chat asks a question. It might be whether their carton of milk is out of date, the colour of their shirt, to whether they’re lining up for the right train. Helping is a joy.