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.
Rachael Leahcar has a wicked sense of humour. It’s how she deals with her lack of vision, along with her trusty guide dog sidekick, Ella, and the power of song. Rachael (now 23) rose to fame in 2012 as a contestant on reality television series The Voice. She was born with degenerative condition retinitis pigmentosa (RP) and learnt to use a cane in high school.
“I just wanted to fit in,” she says over coffee at The Strand on Glenelg’s Jetty Road. “You’d hear the whispers… ‘She’s blind’ but I’d say ‘I’m not deaf’ or ‘I’m just modelling this brand of cane’.” She pauses. “I just wanted to be normal. The RSB [Royal Society for the Blind] helped me with so much of that. I accepted it as a part of me that I needed and was proud of it in the end. It made me different. I find that when your attitude changes towards something, your whole life changes. And now I have Ella, who is much better company than a cane.”
Sound is important to Rachael. With six albums under her belt, it’s her livelihood and an essential tool for survival. “I rely on my hearing with a lot of things. Even crossing the road. That’s why I hate those silent cars. I can even hear the tram when it’s pretty far away. The metal on the ground makes a noise when it’s getting close.”
A lack of cars is one of the reasons Rachael loves Rundle Mall. She also loves Adelaide Central Market. “You get people yelling ‘try this’ and ‘try that’. I think people tune it out because there’s so much to take in but I love it. That’s how I know what’s going on around me. I use my spatial awareness and my hearing.”
She particularly loves passing coffee stalls because they remind her of her Italian nonna. “Coffee takes me straight to nonna.”
Rachael has no peripheral vision. As she grew older it reduced to five-percent. “Like a little pinhole. Even that is blurry.”
Ella once saved Rachael’s life when the pair went for a stroll and the dog suddenly stopped. “She stopped me from going over a rock wall.”
Ella will join Rachael on stage when her national solo tour kicks off in celebration of her latest album Shadows. “I’m performing at The Gov on 19 November. I’ve always wanted to perform there.”
Rachael refuses to let her disability slow her down. “People ask me if I’d go for the cure if there was one. I have to hesitate because my vision made me who I am today. It’s led me to so many amazing places. I feel like I’ve turned a negative thing into a positive.”
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.