Ability

Today is the International Day of People with Disability. Listening to a story on the radio about Nas Campanella who usually reads the news for Triple J, a national radio station in Australia. She spoke of her experience as the first news cadet who is blind to be hired as a newsreader for the ABC, as part of a piece on International Day of People with Disability. She talks about being blind and using a cane to walk instead of a guide dog and that she also has another condition that affects the use of her hands, which means she can’t read braille.

The interviewer plays a section of audio that reflects what she hears when she’s reading the news (that she also compiles). It’s a speech program with a robotic voice reading the words of a document for the newsreel, as well as her own voice and beeps that indicate timing. It would take a lot to be able to manage all of those sound streams going on at once. Pretty impressive ability! She takes the words from a document that she hears through an automated reader that is virtually lifeless, into a human form. She brings life to it making it interesting to our ears.

It gave me a whole new appreciation for her work and made me wonder about what it might be like if we have robot or automated news reading. But she helps illuminate the distinction, the human element. I became curious about how much we really acknowledge this and about how many other listeners on this Sunday arvo radio show are making this connection.

Triple J is not a commercial radio station and is government funded through the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, it’s one that survived massive cuts to public broadcasting decades ago. Its audience is generally people under 40, so it may be an audience that does think about automation and humanity, or not, I really have no idea. I don’t know anyone else who listens to Triple J and I don’t really talk about the fact that I listen to it. I mostly listen to it for the news so hearing a story behind the newsreader is a bit of a treat for me. 

And to hear what this woman has overcome to get to where she is. It’s quite remarkable that she has used the skill of listening for a role that has thousands of people listening to her nearly every day of the week. She’s 26 so she was born at a time when using technology to help her through school was possible. Audiobooks and automated speech to text made it possible for her to have documents translated into a form that she could consume. Nas Campanella has a university degree and is also a motivational speaker.

On this International Day of People with a Disability, what can we do to be more inclusive and mindful? Does this challenge the way you see people with disabilities? They are much more capable than we expect, have more ability than we give them credit for. For me this challenges my own notion of what ability is about, valuing the contribution their abilities afford and what they can teach us about our own perceived limitations.

This is post 31 of 45 posts for 45 years.

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