I recently spoke with Emeritus Professor Ron McCallum (pictured) from the University of Sydney Law School about his involvement with this year's TedxSydney event. Blind since birth, Ron has spent his life campaigning for disability rights. Find out more about the life of one of the University's most inspiring people.
Take a minute to think about how many words you read daily. From newspapers to magazines, textbooks to company reports, instant messages to emails – our eyes are massaged, often attacked, by thousands and thousands of words. In fact, a 2008 report by The Global Information Industry Centre stated that on average, we consume more than 100,000 words each day.
Professor Ron McCallum undoubtedly exceeds this average. Unsurprising, until you consider that Ron has been blind since birth.
Despite this he has established a distinguished career in law, earning accolades and positions that include Senior Australian of the Year in 2011, inaugural president of the Australian Labour Law Association from February 2001 to November 2009, and current Chair of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Underpinning these achievements is Ron's ongoing commitment to fighting for the rights of those with disabilities. Speaking at this year's TEDxSydney, he will be discussing the right to read.
“Blind and other print-handicapped persons, cannot read printed material. Currently, only 5% of material is available in accessible formats, like braille and digital,” he says.
“Reading is a right and it is crucial in the lives of all adult Australian citizens.”
His path to overcoming his own disability and pursuing this passion for reading began with familiarising himself with braille as a child. Then, “as a teenager and right up until I was an associate professor,” he explains, “family, friends and students read material onto tape for me".
He now uses computer-based adaptive technology, but this method relies on books and journals being produced in electronic formats. Ron's hope for the future is that “these electronic formats will be slightly altered to make this material fully accessible for everyone”, so the right to read can be properly practiced.
Ron is as grateful as he is inspirational, noting how important “the many friends, family members and students who have assisted me along the way” have been to his success. And, he is equally humble in his success: “I feel very privileged and excited to speak at TEDx, an extraordinary platform to connect with people who love innovation and new ideas” says Ron.
And Ron's favourite book? Elizabeth Goudge's, The Herb of Grace, “by far the best of the three books in the Eliot trilogy” he says.
Catch Professor Ron McCallum speaking about blindness and the many dimensions of the right to read at this year's TEDxSydney on 4 May.