Imagine starting out on a career in law despite others telling you it would be all too difficult. But you forged ahead anyway and spent more than four decades teaching the tertiary subject. And living life to the full. Now close your eyes.
Professor Ron McCallum, a prominent labour law expert is one person who refused to listen to the nay-sayers. And listening was hard to avoid as he was totally blind from the age of three months. And he is one of 37 million people who are totally blind, worldwide.
Born 10 weeks premature in 1948, the young McCallum even beat the odds in the birth stakes, but developed retrolental fibroplasia. The eye condition came from oxygen therapy used back then to aid underdeveloped lungs. Professor McCallum admits he doesn’t know how he processed that he couldn’t see but loved being read to. Something he still enjoys.
He was raised in Melbourne by his mother, along with two brothers. And his early education relied solely on books in braille. But by high school, the cluey McCallum boy started using a tape recorder to learn. Reciting the information and playing it back.
Then while attending university in Canada he approached jail inmates to recite law material into a tape recorder to help him study. In fact, Professor McCallum credits technology in enabling him to study independently. He gave a funny and heartfelt TEDx talk in 2013, titled ‘How technology allowed me to read’, on historic reading apparatus for the blind and detailed how each new design impacted his life.
Clearly his canny techniques worked. In 1993, he became the first totally blind person to be appointed to a professorship in any field in any university in Australia or New Zealand. And in 2002 he was made Dean of Law.
Throughout his law career, the professor gained numerous accolades, including that of Senior Australian of the Year in 2011. He has also chaired the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and been an ambassador for Vision Australia and Don’t Dis My Ability.
In 2010, the professor commenced as a consultant at HWL Ebsworth Lawyers. And in 2013, Professor McCallum was appointed to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal that hears NDIS matters.
Outside of a very successful career, Ron McCallum married Mary Crock in 1985 and the couple raised three children. And she also became a Professor of Law at the University of Sydney.
At 69, taking things easy doesn’t seem to be a concept Professor McCallum is familiar with at all.
“On occasions, I’ve had people typecast me as though perhaps I’ve gone far enough,” he told Huffington Post recently. “I’ve countered that by looking for new horizons.”
The now Emeritus Professor McCallum continues to be an advocate for people with disabilities, a subject he is passionate about. And he remains an inspiration to those of us who feel a bit challenged by life’s obstacles.