As a departure from normal posts, I can’t wait to share my amazing vision-impaired co-worker’s 15 minutes of fame! She and her gorgeous black Labrador have become the poster children of Guide Dogs Western Australia and now have their own YouTube video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QoOWiqs5Mqs – please take a look!
Some months ago, I arrived at LandCorp to start my new role and was introduced over the next few days to the team around me. One of the first people I met was Kate Atkins, who informed me that she was my Team Administrator.
What luxury! I’d never had one of those before, and to be honest, had no idea how to use one! So when such a dilemma presents, what better reason to go for coffee? Any excuse, huh? Anyway…
During our catch-up, I was very sad to find out that Kate was losing her sight, and rapidly. Always so bright and bubbly, I was amazed to hear about the barrage of uncomfortable and sometimes painful tests she was undergoing and the fact that she was faced with the prospect of perhaps never regaining her vision at just 25 years old. And still through all this, she remains such a positive, fun-loving person.
Kate was eventually diagnosed with Lebers Hereditary Optic Neuropathy and got in touch with the Association for the Blind of WA and started the long process of learning to live her new life, with the help of Orientation and Mobility Instructors. Whacking people around the ankles with her cane became a favourite lunchtime pursuit, along with biting her tongue whenever unthinking idiots made stupid comments around her, as if by losing one faculty, she had somehow lost her entire brain.
Towards the end of 2012, Kate found out that she had been admitted into the Guide Dog training program. The many dogaholics on levels 5 and 6 were delighted, and we all welcomed Lucy into the office in October. So unbelievably hard to resist a cuddle every five minutes… Frank is carefully monitoring the dip in productivity against the increase in morale, although having one’s toes licked during meetings is not to everyone’s taste.
Since then Kate and Lucy have become a regular fixture on Reception too. Kate continues to do a great job sorting out Strategy & Systems and Project Clarity, whenever she’s not welcoming visitors and answering the switchboard in her unfailingly cheerful manner. And while not always adhering to dress code, Lucy has also done well to learn about the defibrillator now installed on level 5, regularly adds the odd comment during Division meetings and only occasionally ingratiates herself when her digestive system lets her down.
I had the great pleasure recently of attending Kate and Lucy’s graduation ceremony at Guide Dogs WA, in recognition of them completing their training. Many tears were shed by all, which probably accounts for the blurry photographs, especially when Kate presented the clay plaque of her hand print and Lucy’s paw print to her mum. Kate was commended by everyone for her tenacity, bravery and positive attitude (and also for how fast she walks!!).
As LandCorp’s casual Friday donations this year are going to the Association of the Blind of WA, it’s appropriate to acknowledge what a great job they do of bringing donors, volunteers, instructors, clients and dogs together. The family who raised Lucy from an 8-week-old puppy had made a video compilation, and the couple who donated a very large sum of money to fund Lucy’s training and upkeep were also on-hand to see what a great team Kate and Lucy make.
Having also become “The Face” of the Association, Kate and Lucy do their best to squeeze in work between modelling engagements and those unavoidable hair and make-up sessions that go with their newfound celebrity status, and are busy raising money so that other vision-impaired people can get the chance of independence that Kate can now enjoy with Lucy.
“Lucy has given me back the confidence to walk around without being scared that I could walk into someone at any moment,” Kate says. “Guide Dogs are not just a mobility aid, they’re a companion for life.”
And beware, we have learned not to try to sneak a pat with Lucy when she’s wearing her harness, thinking Kate won’t notice… As with other Lebers sufferers, she still has some peripheral vision, and we will be caught!!