On Accessibility and Inclusion: an interview with Paul Crestani for Low Vision Awareness Month

February is Low Vision Awareness Month. Vision Australia estimates that there are 453,000 people in Australia with blindness or low vision, and that this number will grow to 564,000 by 2030.

Given this trend, how can we build more inclusivity and support for students and employees with low vision or blindness?

In this article, we interview Paul Crestani, who works in the AccessAbility Services team at Curtin University. When he was based at the Curtin Business School, he won the Q3 2020 Customer Servicing Benchmark Australia (CSBA) Most Customer Focused Agent Award for his dedication to the student experience, and for continually going above and beyond for his clients.

Hi Paul. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I am 52 years old, A parent with five grown up kids. My youngest is now 16. I am a big sports fan and love the Dockers, Scorchers and Wildcats. and I have been working at Curtin for over 20 years.

I was born with blindness; my mother probably had rubella when she was pregnant with me. If my mother had access to the rubella vaccine, my life would be very different.

What do you do at Curtin?
I started at the Curtin Business School, working in Student Services, and transitioned over to Curtin Connect. I worked in Student Services on the phones for about 20 years. Last year, I started a secondment at the AccessAbility Services team. I provide administrative support for the Curtin Specialist Mentoring Program (CSMP) which is a mentoring program for neurodiverse students with autism or related conditions. Since the program started, the retention rate for the participants has been significantly higher. I am enjoying what I do!

How do you navigate a big campus like Curtin?
It can be very random and unpredictable. There’s hills and steps, and very few straight lines. Buildings come in all sorts of designs which adds to the charm of the campus. It can be tricky for me to navigate as each building is so different and I rely on Hercules, my Seeing Eye Dog. When I started working with Hercules, I trained with him for about four weeks. Curtin was really supportive and fantastic; they viewed it as a training needed for me to do my job and I could take the time needed to train with Hercules that way.

Curtin has the Disability Access and Inclusion Plan which is a long-term plan focused on building more inclusion and accessibility for the Curtin community. What are your thoughts on this?

The Curtin Disability Access and Inclusion Plan is fantastic. It’s great that Curtin wants to support both staff and students in such a positive way. One area for improvement is in the accessibility of the wide range of IT systems that Curtin uses. The companies that work with Curtin for software and systems have to take this Disability Access and Inclusion Plan into consideration, and factor in accessibility during the development phase so you don’t have to figure how to make the final product accessible, saving time and money. This can make work and education truly inclusive for all students and employees.

If I encounter issues with technology, I have always been able to get the help of my colleagues. Over the past 20 years I have come across many people at Curtin and no one has been rude or disrespectful or patronising. Everyone I have worked with has been really supportive – I just like all of them. That’s been one of the great things about coming to work at Curtin.

You mentioned that you are enjoying your current secondment. How did you and Hercules adjust to this new role with AccessAbility Services?

When the opportunity arose, I had a meeting with my line managers to discuss what skills the new role entailed, what skills I had and what skills I could obtain. With the support of the Employee Wellbeing Team, we applied for funding from Job Access. An IT trainer from VisAbility WA, who is also a person with blindness, came to do some software training with me. A trainer from Seeing Eye Dogs worked with Hercules to train him to take a different route to my new office.

For my new colleagues, the Employee Wellbeing team also organised training by VisAbility on legislation related to assistance animals, Seeing Eye Dog etiquette and how to set up the physical environment to accommodate Hercules and myself. This training and preparation have made the process much easier for us and my colleagues. Everyone in my new team has been supportive and great.

Do you have any other tips on improving accessibility and inclusion at Curtin?

  1. Don’t be afraid to offer assistance – some people are hesitant about approaching people with disability as they are worried about doing or saying the wrong thing. It’s the intention that matters.
  2. I wonder if students studying degrees related to IT and software programming have disability awareness training? I hope they can include accessibility and its importance in one of the modules to encourage future developers to build more inclusive and accessible systems so everyone can have a fair go.

 If you live with disability, or work with students or staff members with disability, the Employee Wellbeing Team can assist you with potential accommodations and training for your colleagues to build a more inclusive environment and support structures for your work. Please feel free to contact employee.wellbeing@curtin.edu.au for a chat.

If you live with disability, are a carer for someone who lives with disability and/or  wish to support efforts to improve accessibility and inclusion at Curtin, we invite you to join Abilities Collective @Curtin, an Employee Reference Group. The first social gathering will be a free lunch catch-up on 25 March at the Library. Please register via https://events.humanitix.com/abilities-collective-curtin-social-group-shared-lunch . Alternatively, please email abilitiescollective@curtin.edu.au to register or find out more.