Prior to a workplace accident in her late teens, Alison Jones had never considered what it would be like to live as a person who is blind.
Still in hospital when she was informed she wouldn’t see again, Alison, then 18, admits her first thoughts were driven by fear.
“When I was told I wouldn’t recover any sight I was pretty fearful of what that meant,” Alison says.
“I think it was because it came all of a sudden. I hadn’t been living with a condition that was getting worse or anything like that and I’d never thought about how what being blind would mean,” she says.
As her vision wasn’t going to return, Alison was quickly referred to Vision Australia by her doctor at the hospital. Alison’s first support came from the not-for-profits occupational therapists and orientation and mobility specialists, which put her on the path to regaining her independence.
“The first thing they got me into was OT and O&M. That was kind of the kick-start into what I needed to do to live as a blind person,” she says.
“It was learning things like how to get around independently and how to do all of those day to day things that people take for granted but that I had to relearn how to do.”
While Alison said the support from Vision Australia staff was invaluable, she also said a strong sense of self-determination helped her to overcome many of the initial challenges she faced.
“I didn’t want a life where people were doing stuff for me. I wanted to do things for myself,” she says.
“I think it helped that I was stubborn as well. If somebody told me I couldn’t do something I would say to myself that I could. I definitely wanted to be able prove people wrong.
“When it came to learning how to use the cane and everything else there were some challenges, but the thing I had to do was just stick with it and tell myself not to give up.”
Alison’s independence has recently been furthered increased after she was matched with Ashton from Vision Australia’s Seeing Eye Dogs. The two have been together for around two months now and in that time Alison says she has become even more confident when it comes to being out and about. .
“It’s been very different [to using a white cane], but it’s been a very positive experience. Ashton’s given me that freedom and sense of normality back that I haven’t had since I lost my sight.
“To me it’s more fluent, with a cane it can be very stop start when you’re going around obstacles, whereas the dog just takes you around them. It’s kind of like I can see again when I’m with him.”
Though Alison and Ashton have quickly become a pair who work well together, they may have to spend some time apart next year after the Australian Women’s Goalball team was invited to the World Championships in Sweden in June 2018.
A keen sportsperson before she lost her vision, Alison took up goalball in April 2016 and quickly proved to be a natural.
“I was in the gym and the lady who is now my coach scouted me. She’d heard I’d lost my sight recently and suggested I give goalball a go and if I didn’t like it would give me a network at least.
“Before I lost my sight sport was a big sportsperson, I really loved my sport. I was a bit hesitant to start [goalball] because I wasn’t sure if I’d still love sport as much, but finding goalball has changed everything for me.
“It’s helped me find friends and it’s really given me a goal that I can work towards.”
After taking up the sport in 2016, Alison went on to represent Queensland that year. She followed that up with another Queensland selection in 2017 as well as being selected in the Australian side that year.
As a member of the Australian squad, Alison will be hoping she can help the Australian team to a strong showing in Sweden as they chase their goal of Paralympic qualification in 2020.
“I can’t really explain how it feels. It’s defienitely a proud moment when you put on either the maroon jersey or the green and gold to represent your state or country. It’s a pretty special moment.
“It was something I kind of hoped might happen. How quickly it happened is what’s come as a shock. The goal is to get Australia to the Paralympics, I’m in the squad so I’ll do anything I can to help us get there.”