Vision Australia supporter recognised

Valued: Aileen Muscat was one of 11 Vision Australia Wollongong volunteers rewarded for their long service on Tuesday. Picture: SYLVIA LIBER

Valued: Aileen Muscat was one of 11 Vision Australia Wollongong volunteers rewarded for their long service on Tuesday. Picture: SYLVIA LIBER

As a schoolgirl, Aileen Muscat was so ashamed of her vision impairment she used to bury her "coke-bottle glasses" in the dirt and pretend she had lost them.

Teachers at the country NSW school she attended in the 1950s didn't believe she couldn't see the blackboard and labelled her "unco-operative", so she left at 14.

She married her sweetheart Joseph, raised three sons and worked in retail for many years until her vision deteriorated to the point where she was diagnosed as legally blind in 1991.

Today the Figtree grandmother supports others with low or no vision as a valued volunteer for Vision Australia.

Mrs Muscat was one of 11 Vision Australia Wollongong volunteers who received their Years of Service pins at a morning tea in Balgownie on Tuesday during National Volunteers' Week.

"I was born with rod-cone dystrophy but that wasn't diagnosed for many years," she said.

"I had a rough time at school - no-one believed that I couldn't see the blackboard or read the books.

"Mum eventually got me some of those really thick coke-bottle glasses but I used to get teased so much I would bury them in the dirt and say I lost them - I don't know how many I went through.

"In the end I learnt to pretend that I could see and just muddled my way through."

Technology - and awareness - have come a long way in the last half century and Mrs Muscat, 65, has received a lot of assistance from Vision Australia.

"When I was diagnosed as legally blind in 1991 I came to Vision Australia and they've given me so much," she said.

"So I became a volunteer as a way of giving something back. Now I help support others in a range of activities and I'm also part of the speakers' network which goes out to clubs and seniors' groups."

Vision Australia Wollongong team manager Helen Dooley said the organisation valued its more than 100 volunteers.

"Volunteers bring valuable skills, knowledge and enthusiasm into our organisation, which enables us to provide wonderful services and support to people who are blind or have low vision," she said.

Meanwhile, Mrs Muscat said while she still has around 5 per cent vision, that too would go.

"My colour vision is gone - I only see in black and white - and I will eventually lose the vision I've got," she said.

"Ask my three boys and they'll tell you they had a normal childhood - I've never let my vision impairment get in the way."

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