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Nas talks to Pete and Tristram about growing up vision impaired and how she got to be a Disability Affairs reporter for the ABC.
Along the way she talks about the role assistive technology plays in her day to day life, the importance of internships as a step to gaining paid employment, how she got her job as a newsreader for Triple J and how her work creating editorial guidelines around disability for other led her to where she is now.
Produced by: Black Me Out Productions
Articles about Nas Campanella
Growing Bold and Employment
Pete and Tristram: Welcome to the Grow Bold with Disability podcast brought to you by Feros Care, a podcast dedicated to smashing stereotypes and talking about the things people with disability care about most. To help us live bolder, healthier, better connected lives. I’m journalist Pete Timbs and I’m Tristram Peters. I work for Disability Service Directory, Clickability, and am a wheelchair user living with spinal muscular atrophy.
Pete: Today’s episode of Grow Bold with Disability is Growing Bold and Employment, and our guest is Nas Campanella. A successful journalist and broadcaster whose voice you may recognize from seven years on Triple J. But was also blind from the age of six months. In this episode, we’ll hear how Nas, who also has Charcot-Marie-Tooth, overcame all the obstacles put in front of her to live her dream and become one of most recognized voices on ABC radio.
Pete: Nas, welcome to Grow Bold with Disability.
Nas: Hi, thank you for having me.
Tristram: Let’s start back in 1988 when you were born with sight. What happened six months later for you to lose it?
Nas: So the blood vessels essentially ended up bursting in the back of my eyes and detaching my Retinas. And it all happened so I hear very, very quickly. I was in hospital for a very long time and it was very sudden and really came out of nowhere.
Pete: So you grew up in the western suburbs of Sydney. What was it like for a young blind girl in the nineties?
Nas: So Western City is this incredible melting pot of cultures and you know, people from all different sort of walks of life. It’s a really beautiful, vibrant place to grow up in. It was a very and still is, a very accepting and well sort of grounded part of Sydney. And for me, you know, I grew up in a very big, loud, fun Italian family. So there was always lots of food around, always lots of people around. It was very noisy. I had a lot of support as a result because there were always people around. And it was also really great because it was the sort of family that really didn’t make excuses for anybody. You had to, you know, be a part of the family, a full part of the family, and do everything and be everywhere together. And it was a really great upbringing.
Tristram: And so when you then obviously transitioned to school in the nineties, what systems were in place back then for children with disabilities?
Nas: So I started off at a special school in Sydney’s North Shore, and initially I was going there from the age of three because it was sort of prep school. And then you headed into Kindy after that. So Mom and Dad really didn’t, they had never met anybody with a disability before. They really didn’t know what sort of supports would be in place and how I’d go with mainstream schooling. So they were recommended the special school. It was great. Look, I was learning, you know, swimming lessons, daily life living skills, classes, things like how to cut up my food and cooking and all of those sorts of really valuable skills. And then I was also learning to read and write Braille, and I made some really great friends. But it wasn’t long before the teachers at that school we’re recommending to my parents that I’d be transferred into mainstream education, and that wasn’t something they took lightly. They really thought about it deeply and were quite worried that I’d be bullied or that they just wouldn’t be the supports in place. Some of the supports I did have in those early years when I did transfer into mainstream were things like an itinerant support teacher who’d come into class with me. It was her job to make sure that all the materials and books that I read were transcribed into Braille back then. And then later, when we figured out I couldn’t read Braille, we used audio and e-text and things like that, making sure that anything that was basically basically given to my other peers was also talked to me. But in a way that was accessible for someone who’s blind. So whether that be, you know, using puff tactile paint to show me a diagram of something. Or building something out of blocks so that I had a 3D image in my mind, using different counter, you know, blocks to use in maths and things like that. Yeah, it was really great.
Pete: It sounds like a pretty good system actually. Now you mentioned there that you couldn’t read Braille. You do have Charcot-Marie-Tooth. Can you explain to our listeners what that is and what it actually means for you?
Nas: Yes, so Charcot-Marie-Tooth or CMT neuropathy is basically ah, a neurological condition that affects the balance, muscle tone and sensitivity in my hands, arms, legs and feet. So it’s a degenerative condition. Over time, the muscles sort of waste away. And for me, the biggest manifestation is the sensitivity. So the reason why I was struggling for so long not being able to read Braille was because I just didn’t have enough feeling in my fingertips basically, to feel those Braille dots on the page and to give you a sort of example you know, you guys might touch a kettle. And you’ll register very quickly that it’s hot. If I touch a kettle, it takes my hands a little longer to register that that’s hot. And often by the time it does, I burned myself pretty frequently. So I’ve got to be very careful that temperature changes hot to cold, things like that. And it affects my balance as well, you know, walking around, getting around, I’ve got to be quite careful. Yeah, so it manifests in a couple of different ways.
Tristram: You touched on all the innovative ways in which you sort of did everything that everyone else did. At what point did you decide that you wanted to be a journalist?
Nas: Look, I’d always been really came on media, I think, because it’s the way I sort of learned about the world around me, listening to radio from the moment I woke up to the time I went to sleep at night. Um, and I love the way people sounded. I loved music, and when I sort of got into my teen years, I started doing community radio, and it was there that I really discovered that power you could have as someone behind a microphone with bringing people together and having them take part in really stimulating conversation and teach people about the world around them.
Pete: It sounds to me like you had a lot of positive people in your life. Was there ever a time when you, upon choosing this profession, that people said to you know, you should choose something a little bit in inverted commas
“more suitable” for your condition if you know what I mean.
Nas: I grew up having a few people tell me that you know a secretary or receptionist or psychologist would be appropriate jobs. Not knocking those jobs at all, but it’s just not what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to be behind a desk all day doing the same sort of thing every day. Um, and I did think about psychology and you know, who knows? Never say never. It might be second career later down the track. I do love people and you know, I love supporting people, obviously, as people can see through my advocacy work. So, you know, I never say never to that, but it just wasn’t what I wanted. I always wanted to, um, I guess have a career that involved media that involved music that involved writing. I loved writing from a very early age, so I mostly had quite positive influences growing up and getting through school. But then it was sort of, I guess, a bit at uni and then when I was looking for work, where I kind of stumbled upon people who felt that journalism wasn’t necessarily appropriate, and you know that that was obviously because of a number of reasons. But I think one of them is mainly because they’re not a lot of people in the media who have a disability. And I think lots of people were very worried about what that would look like. How could you tell a story if you don’t, you know, see what’s happening? All of those kinds of things.
Tristram: Absolutely. I will confess Nas that I did a journalism degree many, many years ago as a power chair user. I remember being told I couldn’t do some things. But one of the great things about having disability is our creative thinking, our ways to problem solve. I’m sure that, you know, put you in the best sted going forward, that creativity to find solutions to things.
Nas: Yeah, it’s the creativity and it’s also the planning. Like I find myself thinking about a story in a really, a different way to my colleagues. Like I will write a TV script, a very loose TV script before I even go out to shoot the footage. And obviously that will change depending on you know, the images and the answers that we get to our questions from the talent. But I for me, I cannot visualize what the story will look like unless I write a sort of vague script before we go out, and so I can therefore communicate what we want to the camera men and women. So I can have somewhat of a sense of control over the story that we’re putting together. But also, yeah, it’s it’s thinking creatively, coming up with innovative solutions to problems that people will put up in front of you. It’s being able to be adaptable. And to do things really quickly in this industry. Things are changing constantly and you’ve got to be adaptable. You’ve got to be ready for change at any moment now.
Pete: You mentioned the response from potential employers upon leaving uni. What were some of the responses you got from them?
Nas: So initially I was applying for jobs and I chose not to disclose my disability. I didn’t think it was relevant. I still maintain that it wasn’t. And it’s not. That’s a very personal choice. Some people do disclose and that’s perfectly fine, if that’s what they want. For me, it wasn’t relevant to the job. I had a really long CV, huge portfolio and I had done 4.5 years of unpaid internships. And so for me, I felt like that was enough proof that I could do the job and so I usually got an interview. But then, when I often walked into the interview rooms with panels of people, you’d feel this sort of hostility and sort of confusion as to A) why I was there and B) It just felt really strange, like they were kind of just giving me a token interview and it was probably going to amount to nothing. And they would say things to me like we don’t have a safe enough workplace for somebody like you. Um, you know, how could you be a journalist if you can’t see? Or they sort of just asked me, posed all of these problems but never a solution. And it was kind of up to me to find the solutions, which was very intimidating when you’re first starting out in the industry and trying to impress people.
Tristram: What would you then say to those potential employers to try and convince them that you’re capable of doing the job? What conversations did you have along the way, or is it just they would say No, it’s not possible.
Nas: I would draw on the examples of work in the internships that I had already done, which is what I would tell any candidate whether you have a disability, or you don’t. Which is, you know, have every answer ready with an example. You know, if they say well, you know you’re going out to a scene and this is what’s unfolding, you know, have an example that you can then put on the table to prove their theory wrong basically. And I think that’s why I would recommend to anybody that unpaid internships or writing, all of that stuff is so valuable, because when you have those examples, you have that experience to back up what you’re saying, which is that you can do the job like anyone else with the right support and technology. They can’t, they can’t dispute that.
Pete: Mm. What technologies do you actually use day to day that people wouldn’t be aware off?
Nas: So I’ve got Jaws, the screen reading software. I’m sure some of your listeners would be familiar with it. It’s the little robotic sort of voice that’s loaded onto the computer. It’s a screen reader, and so that reads out everything out loud as I type and I can move through the keyboard. I use that. I also use obviously a white cane to get around. I use my phone to record everything. My phone has just become my best friend. I listened to the news on and I read news on websites on it. I record my little voice reports to send back to the newsroom for the news bulletins. I’ve got basically all these different apps in there, which I use with the voiceover technology that enables me to do my job now. It’s amazing.
Tristram: And so I’d love to explore when the ABC offered you a cadetship in 2011. Just for a moment. When you spent a year of regional reporting news reading in South East New South Wales. How was it actually being out in the real world, practicing as a journalist? How, after all those years of applying for gigs and what not, how did that make you feel?
Nas: So my first year I spent in the Sydney newsroom as a cadet, and it felt pretty surreal, like I was sitting amongst these journalists who I had been listening to on TV and reading, you know, their content for so many years, and I felt very lucky to be even in the same building as them let alone the same newsroom, so that was pretty special. They all took me under their wing. For the first few months I went out with senior journalists and shadowed them, and I would just listen, observe, ask questions. After a couple of days, I started writing the stories and they would sub edit them for May. They go through them and talk me through what they do differently and and what I, you know, potentially got wrong or how I could have done something differently and that was the best training really.
Just to be with people while there were in action and just take it all in and have them there as colleagues, as friends, as people who I could bounce ideas off and that was a really good way for me to also see what it was like in the field and what sort of things I hadn’t considered before and some of the little sort of things that I needed to implement to make sure I could actually go out on my own. And, you know, it took a little while for some of the some people in the newsroom to sort of feel comfortable to send me out. I think it’s because they hadn’t worked with anybody with the disability before, but they were very good at asking questions. They went backward in coming forward with, you know, letting me know about any concerns they had. We just talked about everything. And I think that’s what’s so great about my colleagues. Is that, you know, communicator are communicators and journalists are curious. And that meant that we all just sort of chatted about everything, and it made it made the working relationship really good and therefore made my practice as a journalist, you know, just as good as everybody else’s.
Then, in that second year, I went off into regional New South Wales, and that was amazing. Obviously, being in a regional area means it’s all hands on deck. So you were doing writing, stories, editing. You were helping produce interviews for the local radio, you know, programs as well. You’re pitching in whereever was needed, really. And that was where I think I totally credit my success to that year in that newsroom and because my writing had to be clear, concise, it had to be done to strict deadlines. I just learned so much. And then personally, obviously, moving away from your friends and family and really giving independent living a go for the first time was just an amazing experience.
Pete: You mentioned that the journos hadn’t worked with someone with a disability before. Has that changed since you started back in 2011?
Nas: Yeah. There are a number of people here with lived experience at the ABC now working, uh, in a variety of roles, which is fantastic to see.
And, you know, no doubt there will be there’ll be more coming through as the years go on. I think if there was someone who had a disability who wanted to come into, you know, particularly the Sydney newsroom or the national newsroom where I work, I would feel more than confident. They are so well versed in disability awareness now, obviously, having worked with me, which makes the, you know, the biggest difference. Whereas, you know, I guess with me, they sort of did not know what to expect but were really excited and looking forward to the prospect. Whereas now they just would know what to do. What not to do what to say, how to offer support. Um, and yeah, it would just be an amazing experience for anyone coming into this newsroom.
Tristram: And we can’t talk to you today without mentioning that you’ve recently changed roles at the ABC from Triple J to Disability Affairs reporter for ABC News. Can you tell us a little bit about what that rolling entails?
Nas: Yes, so this role really came about. I started putting together some editorial guidance notes to give journos in the media in Australia really, a best practice standard for the language that should be used, the kind of ways that people should be portrayed in the disability community when journos were reporting on stories to do with disability. And it all sort of started because I wanted to have that out and for people to use when the Disability Royal Commission started last year into violence, abused, neglect and exploitation. And so it started from there, and my role really is primarily going to be covering the Disability Royal Commission on, then, when the public hearings are not sitting, obviously come up with my own original story ideas of which I have so many. And then, as soon as I was announced in this role, I’ve just been completely inundated. So it’s been really wonderful to connect with so many amazing people in the disability community and to hear the kinds of issues they want on the agenda. And to give them a platform. To put their voice out there. To talk about the issues that they want to talk about in the way that they want to talk about them. So some of the key priorities for me are really getting some voices out there that we haven’t necessarily heard before. There are lots of people who communicate in ways that look a bit different to how you will or I might communicate. And I’m really conscious that I want to bring those voices out into the public sphere. And I want to change the way that people with disability are portrayed, you know. For too long it was all about the inspiration porn to use that term coined by the late Stella Young. You know it’s changed after she started writing and speaking and talking about this sort of thing, and I want to keep that going because it’s so important. And I want to just give people with a disability, a platform to share their stories.
Pete: What are you hearing from people when it comes to employment and disabilities, what are their main concerns?
Nas: There are lots of concerns. The concerns today are really the ones that have been concerning people in the disability community for a long time. Discrimination. The fact that they don’t even get an interview because they have a disability, um, that there’s not enough. You know, that there’s a lot of lip service done where people or organizations talk about providing flexible work arrangements or accommodations and modifications and all those sorts of things, and they’re an equal opportunity employer. But when it comes to putting that into practice, it’s it’s not being done. And so those are some of the main concerns and, you know, they’re still high rates of people with a disability who are unemployed and so it would be great to see those things turned around.
Pete: We touched on our creativity and there’s amazing statistics around the fact that we’re often more loyal in workplaces, we take less sick days. I mean, it’s it’s such a powerful narrative to share that businesses need to hire more people with disabilities don’t they?
Nas: Absolutely. And I think it’s all those things you mentioned. It’s that we are very loyal, we are very creative. And the figures do show we take less sick days. But I think what’s also really important is to remember that we bring a unique perspective to the workplace that for too long has been missing. And I think when you have the same people in management, the same people in an organization, you will continue to have the same decisions being made. You won’t push boundaries and step outside your comfort zone. Or your organization won’t. And that’s a really sad indictment on your organization. And you simply won’t progress in the world if you’re not opening up your organization and providing opportunities for everybody in this community. And I think one thing to remember is that with the right support and technology, I have done my job in the same way as every other Jouro has here and that’s a testament to the organization. And, you know, I think that’s clear. That story can be told 1000 times over for so many other people in this community.
Pete: Yeah, and it’s a great testament to you as well. Now, Nas. We like to wrap up our podcast because, you know, it’s called Grow Bold with Disability. We like to finish off by asking our guests
“What does growing bold mean to you?”
Nas: Growing Bold to me means sometimes stepping out of your comfort zone, trying something new, trusting your gut, and really believing in yourself. Because if you don’t believe in yourself, then nobody else will.
Pete: Beautiful. Love it.
Nas: Guys, thanks so much for the opportunity to speak to you. It’s been lovely, and I’m glad I get to kick off the next series.
Pete: Yes, Season Two. Here it is. Thank you so much Nas Campanella.
Nas: Thanks, guys.
Pete: Thank you for listening. And if you have enjoyed today’s episode that make sure you subscribe to the podcast
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Pete: This podcast is brought to you by Feros Care, an NDIS partner delivering local area coordination services in Queensland, South Australia, and the Australia Capital Territory. Feros Care is a people care organization committed to helping people leave bolder lives. We call it growing bold and for over 25 years Feros has been making it real for both older Australians and those living with disability. To find out more head to Feroscare.com.au
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The content and views discussed in this podcast series are those of the individuals involved. They are not necessarily condoned by, or, are the views of Feros Care or its employees.