Welcome to the summer edition of the Stonnington Access and Inclusion newsletter - providing you with information on local initiatives, programs and services in Stonnington.
This issue contains exciting upcoming events including Council's annual Christmas concerts and International Day of People with Disability, as well as an interview with a local business owner with an amazing story. Enjoy!
International Day of People with Disability 2016
To celebrate International Day of People with Disability, the City of Stonnington welcomed over 40 community art submissions to reflect the theme of inclusion in the community. These are now on display at Phoenix Park Community Centre at 22 Rob Roy Road Malvern East in the Conference Room.
Opening times to view the exhibition are:
Saturday 3 December: 10am – 4pm
Sunday 4 December: 10am – 4pm
Monday 5 December: 2pm launch, open until 4pm
Tuesday 6 December 12pm – 4pm
Wednesday 7 December: 2pm – 4pm
Thursday 8 December: 1pm – 4pm
Friday 9 December: 10am – 4pm
Saturday 10 December: 10am – 4pm
Printmaking for Unpaid Carers: Free classes at Firestation Print Studio
This is a class carefully designed to be suitable for unpaid carers in Stonnington, even those who claim "they can't draw". Printmaking is a process that can produce great results. You will print greeting cards with your own designs on them. All materials will be provided. Afternoon tea included.
For more information contact Edith Mayfire@fps.org.auor call 95091782
Prahran Community Learning Centre
Inclusive education courses: Prahran Community Learning Centre’s (PCLC) is an Educational Centre that provides a welcoming and supportive environment to learn, access recreational opportunities and practical experience in social, cultural and personal development. Find out about their courses on their entry on the Clickability site: https://clickability.com.au/listing/pclc/ or call them on 9510 7052.
Christmas Concerts 2016
Christmas at Central Park
Saturday 10 December, 5pm–9.30pm
Central Park, Burke Road, Malvern East
A Christmas celebration for the whole family, with free craft activities and unique performances especially for the kids (until 7pm), including the Mik Mak’s Christmas Show! Carols will follow for those who can stay up a little bit later – hosted by Lucy Durack (Wicked), and performed by some of Melbourne’s most popular musical talent. All performances will be Auslan-interpreted.
For more information, visit stonnington.vic.gov.au/christmascentral
The inimitable Rhonda Burchmore hosts Melbourne’s much-loved carols concert, featuring a stellar line up of performers including Bobby Fox (Jersey Boys), Amy Lehpamer (Sound of Music), and Verity Hunt Ballard (Mary Poppins). Bring along a picnic and celebrate Christmas under the stars with a spectacular riverside fireworks display. All performances will be Auslan-interpreted.
For more information, visit stonnington.vic.gov.au/carolsatcomo
Free Hearing Assessments
Better Hearing Australia (BHA)
5 High Street Prahran VIC 3181
One in six Australians experience hearing loss and with an aging population this will increase to one in four people. Since 1932 Better Hearing Australia has supported thousands of people manage hearing loss and tinnitus. They are not in the business of selling hearing aids, their professional staff will assess your needs and help you find the right solution. Services include hearing loss management, the Victorian Hearing Aid Bank, tinnitus management and education and training. For more information go to www.betterhearing.org.au
I grew up in Croydon and went to Croydon North Primary and Yarra Valley Anglican Grammar School. I was short sighted so I spent a lot of time at optometrists and eye specialists. My local optometrist in Croydon, Ross Harris, was quite inspiring and a great guy. He was one of the key people in getting optometry in Medicare and getting optometry to where we are today. He spent some time with my very difficult prescription and he was able to fit me with contact lenses. Other people told me that I couldn’t wear contacts.
Ross Harris was someone who took the time and effort out of their day to take on a challenging patient. That sparked my interest in optometry and I completed my optometry degree at Melbourne University in 1994.
I then took a job in with Graham Hill in Shepparton. Graham was the President of the College of Optometry at the time. He ran one of the best known independent optometry practices in country Victoria. It was a great environment to work in and Graham’s professional example was the same as I’d experienced as Ross Harris’s patient.
In 1999 I started Eyes Optometrists at 123 Swan Street Richmond and 10 years later expanded to 29 Toorak Road South Yarra. We look at our patients very differently from the corporate franchises. We’re about offering a personalised service. We try to find glasses that look amazing on you, lenses that suit you, your lifestyle, interests and hobbies. We also maintain that no person is too difficult to fit with contact lenses.
At the start of 2007 I had my first retinal detachment. I had all the signs a couple months beforehand and I should have done something about it, but being an optometrist I thought “I’ll do that later, I’ll do that later”. Because there were structural weaknesses in my left eye I had multiple complications and after seven or eight unsuccessful operations I was left with low vision. In 2008 a problem developed with my right eye. Surgeries on that eye had unusual complications as well. By the end of 2008, I was legally blind.
I don’t know if the other business owners on the street know about my disability. Nobody has ever asked me about it. I don’t necessarily talk about my disability; but I don’t avoid talking about it either. My customers know that I am legally blind. The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) registers all doctors, nurses, dentists and so forth. I am an AHPRA registered optometrist, but one of the conditions of my registration is that there is a sign out the front that talks about me as a vision impaired person.
A lot of people think that being legally blind means that you can’t see anything. People often assume that because you’re blind that you can’t do things, that you’re extremely limited or can’t operate a business. There are some things I can’t do in my practice and there are things that I struggle with.
During the time I was undergoing surgery, I thought “where am I positioned, and what am I going to do for work?” I was very lucky as I had a lot of support from my family and friends. I decided to take myself out of the consulting room and set up my practice to have other staff run it for me. I worked out that my business was built on the relationships that I had built with my patients and customers over the years and that those relationships still existed as long as I was still there. So I employed people to create that same environment and those same relationships with our patients. So although some patients don’t know who I am now, nearly seven years later a lot of our staff still have those relationships with our customers and patients, because that’s the kind of practice that I’ve created.
We’re in a unique position because I’ve been on the receiving end of some of the eye care issues that we see in our patients. I stress to people that having an eye test once a year can help minimise their risk of having something happen to them such as what happened to me.
Connection to Community
I definitely feel a strong connection to South Yarra. I live locally. Everyone talks to each other and it’s a strong community. When I walk down the street I often see my customers. This morning, for example, I took my dog for a walk and on my way back two of my patients stopped for a chat. All the business owners around here know who I am.
As somebody who doesn’t drive, the thing that I love about living in this part of South Yarra is that everything is within walking distance for me. There’s Prahran Market, plenty of supermarkets, restaurants, takeaways and delivery services. Fawkner Park is an amazing open space to have at your doorstep. You’ve got the Botanical Gardens within walking distance. I often walk to the city. There are buses, trams and trains so you are never far away from anything.
Because I spend half my time between Richmond and South Yarra, the difference I really notice between Toorak Road and Swan Street is I can walk up and down Toorak Road at any time of the day or night. I don’t need a white stick to negotiate Toorak Road, but find it extremely difficult to walk down Swan Street of an evening.
In the City of Stonnington I can walk from South Yarra to Windsor at night and have no problem. The streets are better lit. Sodium lighting creates better contrast for people with my type of vision impairment.
Adaptive Equipment and Adapting Business Models
When I went from being a sighted business owner to having a disability, I transitioned my business at a time when the rules and regulations around that were very different. I was very lucky because it was simple criteria through Job Access, which then instigated a workplace assessment by Vision Australia. They came out and because they only dealt with adaptive equipment, they recommended all these things that were specifically geared for people with a disability. When they talk about adaptive equipment they talk about equipment that is designed for people with a disability, for example I have an Acrobat Reader and a portable magnifier which are devices specifically designed for somebody with low vision.
Our phones and tablets all have cameras and magnifying apps on them. These are non-adaptive equipment; they can’t fund that for example. They came around and gave all these suggestions on what would work in my workplace but for me most of the things that I needed to enable me to perform my day to day tasks were actually not disability-specific equipment. We have a lot of automated equipment in this practice so that I am able to use them independently of other staff. It was great then because they looked at somebody who is in a position of running a small business and it’s about maintaining that person in that environment, which is a great thing.
I have invested a lot of money in staff. My staffing costs are probably much higher than an average business of this type, because I employ people to do what I should be able to do but am unable to.
When you’re faced with things like losing your vision you think ‘What am I going to do? Where am I going to go? What’s my life going to look like?’
I told myself, ‘I’ve got two choices; I can either wallow in self-pity, or I can go out there and continue what I was doing yesterday’. I can still remember when I’d had one of my last operations and I really couldn’t see very much because one eye didn’t see very well and the other eye had just had surgery ten days beforehand. I thought ‘I can’t sit at home anymore’ so I got up and ironed a shirt without burning myself and went to work. You can do these things sometimes with your eyes closed.
I was very lucky I had a lot of friends that supported me as well and they told me “there’s no reason why you can’t continue doing what it is that you do, you’ve just got to change the way that you do things or look at things”. What I realised very quickly was that my world is very similar today as it was yesterday. I’m doing exactly today what I thought I would be doing today; it’s a little bit different. I’m not in the consulting room, but I’m still doing something.
Life’s pretty amazing and I can only change today, tomorrow, the next day. I can’t really change what happened six or seven years ago. That’s how I look at things, because life’s still pretty good and there are plenty of opportunities for people, I think, with disabilities, it’s all about your attitude towards it. One of my friends who runs a business also locally, he doesn’t understand the word “no”. “No” to him means “not right now” there’s never a “no” in his vocabulary. It’s all about your attitude towards things and that in some ways is the biggest obstacle a lot of people face and especially people that have a disability, or a new disability. It’s all about how moving forward; it’s easier said than done though.
Everyone will sometimes think ‘What am I doing? Why am I getting out of bed today?’ but if you lie in bed too long you’ll never get out. It’s something so simple but sometimes it is just about getting out of bed and ironing that shirt and going to work even if you’re not really functioning. Sometimes it’s just starting and taking that first step.
One of my friends at the time told me to stick two post-it notes on either side of your computer. One has an H that stands for Hero and one has a V that stands for Victim. Whenever you’re faced with a situation you decide are you going to be a hero or are you going to be a victim.
You can visit Paul’s optometrists at 123 Swan Street, Richmond 3121 (phone 9421 2378) or at 29 Toorak Road, South Yarra 3141 (phone 9866 8540).