A Life Without Sight: Professor Ron McCallum

05/04/2017 9:49 AM AEST | Updated 05/04/2017 11:04 AM AEST

Video by Stuart Jones

Born between eight and ten weeks premature in 1948, Professor Ron McCallum developed retrolental fibroplasia -- a condition where oxygen therapy used to aid underdeveloped lungs causes damage to the eyes -- and lost his sight completely by the age of three months.

A prominent labour law expert, Professor McCallum has spent more than four decades teaching law. He is currently Emeritus Professor at The University of Sydney, a member of the Australian Administrative Appeal Tribunal, was awarded Senior Australian of the Year in 2011 by former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, and has chaired the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

'I don't know how I processed that I wasn't able to see." McCallum said. Raised alongside his two brothers in Melbourne, predominantly by his mother using her pension, his formative education was entirely reliant on braille books.

Ron McCallum

At high school, McCallum began using tape recorders to learn -- by reciting information into them and listening back. While studying at Queens University in Canada, McCallum approached prisoners at the Collins Bay jail to read law material into tape recorders to help him study.

Incredibly, in 1993 he became the first totally blind person in Australia or New Zealand to be awarded a professorship. In 2002, Professor McCallum became the first totally blind person to be made Dean of Law. He credits technology -- blind computers and Kurzweil computer products that used synthetic speech, and now the iPhone -- with freeing him to study and learn independently.

Mary Crock

McCallum married Mary Crock in 1985, herself now a Professor of Law at University of Sydney. The couple have three children -- a daughter, and two sons. Parenthood was a challenge that McCallum embraced alongside his wife.

"When becoming a dad I had to use my lateral thinking skills," McCallum said. "I was never exempted from changing nappies, sad to say, I think I must have done thousands. But rather than having a child fall off (a changing table), I used a mat on the floor with towels." He said the experience of parenthood was "extraordinary".

Mary Crock

A husband, parent and professor, McCallum has also served as an ambassador for charities including Vision Australia and Don't Dis My Ability, to support and advocate for people with disabilites -- a subject he remains passionate about.

"On occasions I've had people typecast me as though perhaps I've gone far enough. I've countered that by looking for new horizons."

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