The world from a different view
Sitting in the driver’s seat of a car at Eastern Creek Raceway Lynelle McMillan grabbed the wheel. Instantly the driving instructor knew Lynelle had been blind from birth.
The tell-tale sign was the way she had grabbed the wheel. “I had my hands down the bottom,” she recalls.
Lynelle, a Howard Court at IRT Pioneer Place resident, jumped at the chance to take a spin around the famous Sydney raceway some 22 years ago when offered the opportunity by Vision Australia.
“I was excited more than nervous,” she says of the experience. “It was something I had never done and wanted to do it . . . I got told to take my foot off the accelerator because I was going too fast.”
Peter Brock, the late motor racing driver, was there too and also took her for a lap.
Lynelle hasn’t let being blind stop her from doing anything she’s wanted to do in life – from driving a car to travelling abroad and working.
“I was born a bit over two months premature and that’s what caused my blindness,” she says.
She boarded at a school for the blind in Sydney from a young age, and she found it hard being away from her family in Wollongong.
Lynelle was 15 when she left school and her first job was looking after the children at the blind school where she boarded. She smiles when recalling the story of bathing a child and sending them to school with the chicken pox.
She then got a job working for a company which made chairs and her job was to assemble the chairs’ castors – a job which she held for almost 20 years – and has plenty of fond memories of her working life. She lived in her own unit in Sydney for 30 years before making the move back to Wollongong some three years ago to be closer to family. “It’s very good moving down here in this time of my life.”
She’s still learning to get around Wollongong and has learned to get to a few key places – such as The Illawarra Brewery, the shops and how to catch the bus.
Technology plays a big role in Lynelle’s life – assisting her to get around, telling her what colour something is and to communicate.
The most useful piece of technology for Lynelle is her phone.
“Technology is very good for me but you’ve got to learn to use these things and it only took me 12 months to learn how to use the phone,” she laughs. “It takes you longer to learn it as an older person, a kid would pick it up straight away – it’s all foreign to me.”
Lynelle has a very clever pen, which helps her to identify household items. By simply using her voice to record what an item is and a special label on the item, when the pen is held to the item’s label, the pen identifies it. For example, she uses it to record use-by dates on food.
“I was introduced to these by Vision Australia, they showed me all these things. I’ve got a talking jug that tells me when the water gets full, talking bathroom scales that tell me my weight, and a liquid level that tells me when I get to the top of the cup when I pour a cup of coffee.”
She’s currently waiting for some new technology to arrive – one which will help her identify locations when she’s out and about and another to alert someone if she’s had a fall.
Her greatest achievement in life so far is being able to travel. “I’ve been to Europe, America and Canada, New Zealand and the Northern Territory.” She’s also travelled to the UK and all of Australia’s capital cities.
She’s been on organised tours with family and friends, as she explains it’s hard to travel by yourself as a blind person.
“The guides, when I’ve travelled overseas, they have taken me everywhere . . . they’d open up cases for me so I can feel things.”
Lynelle has a very pragmatic approach to being blind, saying that there’s nothing she can do to fix it. “I just accept I can’t see,” she says. “I think I’ve got a very warped sense of humour being blind. I don’t take it seriously not being able to see.”