Paul Geertson
Paul Geertson

Paul Geertson, 66, is on the road to completing a Masters in Theology. The Hastings resident was born with glaucoma and his vision has been deteriorating over time. We talked to Paul about how the support of adaptive technology allows him to keep pace with his peers.Life Christian University is a global network of campuses with over 100 active campuses led in 19 states of the USA, and 10 foreign countries.

How have you found completing a Bachelor of Theology?

It is truly an amazing feeling that at age 66 I stand alongside much younger graduates.

What motivated you to study theology, and go on to complete your Masters?

Forty-five years ago at the tender age of 21, I graduated as a Medical Diagnostic Radiographer with my Diploma of Medical Radiography. This was a career I was passionate about. I was continually researching and designing improved techniques, teaching and presenting at conferences and publishing peer reviewed articles.

I was never one to regard retirement as stopping or slowing down. I never held with the old saying ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’. Losing my eyesight closed one door, but as one of my daughters said to me, “another door will open Dad”. Another door did open where I could take all that life experience and encompass that with spiritual and mental strength to walk with, uplift, and encourage others experiencing minor to major life changes.

What eye condition do you have and has this impacted your studies?

I was born with congenital glaucoma. Surgery as a baby failed to save my left eye but was successful for my right eye. Life continued as normal until in 1980 when I ran into a branch of a tree damaging my cornea of my only good eye. The following years were to see me have several corneal graft surgeries and a Maltino valve implant which failed causing further damage to my vision. I was now left with scarring of the cornea and 6/120 visual acuity. Reading student notes and text books was impossible until I could convert them to digital documents and use voiceover to read them to me.

What support have you received from the Blind Foundation to help you study?

There are two areas the Blind Foundation assisted with. Firstly, working on independent mobility, using the white cane and technology such as the personal GPS Trekker Breeze which helps navigate using GPS technology. Secondly, working on ways of making student notes, textbooks and sitting exams accessible.

How have you overcome challenges that studying with an eye condition has imposed?

I use adaptive technology to maintain my study progress. I have a desktop CCTV Prodigi Duo to scan written material which magnifies as well as reads the text back to me. However the scanning and processing time meant it took me several hours to read a standard 300 page textbook.

I contacted the Blind Foundation and an Adaptive Communications and Adaptive Technology Services (ACATS) support person set me up with the OpenBooks programme plus scanning camera. It has reduced the time it takes to read textbooks and notes significantly. It converts them to digital documents which means that I can use my iPad/iPhone with voiceover to listen to them. My wife, who is one of the lecturers at our local campus, would convert my student class notes into PDF format so I could view them on my iPad in reverse video and magnified as well as being able to use voiceover if needed.

Have your teachers and peers been surprised by your abilities? How so?

The majority of the students attending the local campus are from my home church. They have embraced the social etiquette regarding interaction with visually impaired people. What does amaze them is the adaptive technology that enables me to keep pace with them during classes. They treat me as an equal.

When will you complete your Masters and what do you want to do once you graduate?

I have two more papers to complete in the first two months of 2019 which gives me my Bachelor Degree. Then I will continue the rest of the year studying for my Masters. Because I have to write a 50 page thesis for my Masters, I will be aiming to complete it towards the end of 2020.

I am a musician in our church music team, playing a range of wind instruments such as flute, alto and soprano saxophone and ethnic and Celtic flutes. I also make my own flutes out of PC plumbing pipe. With these talents and my medical background together with the distraction techniques, I want to work with children in pain, I want to further develop my interest in music therapy. Music reaches all ages and music therapy has proven to be effective in brain injury, stroke victims and cancer patients. My ultimate desire is to give back into my community.

What advice would you give to others who might be thinking about studying?

When you set out on a journey to a distant destination, you allow yourself rest stops to break the journey. So with thoughts of taking up studying, have a destination to aim for. But set achievable goals along the way. Small but frequent successes boost your confidence, letting you know that you are ready and able to start and complete the next part of your study journey.

Need support while studying or help with adaptive technology? Contact us on 0800 24 33 33 or email info@blindfoundation.org.nz