Transcript of Dr Scott Hollier interview on a memoir with purpose

Thursday, 1 December 2016 14:12pm

Introduction:

You're listening to a podcast from Media Access Australia. Inclusion through technology.

Philip:

I'm speaking with Dr Scott Hollier, Media Access Australia Specialist Advisor, Digital Accessibility and just published author of ‘Outrunning the Night, a memoir with purpose. Scott has a degenerative eye condition and is legally blind and his stated aim for his autobiography is to provide encouragement and support to disadvantaged people and the people who care for them. Scott, I've read the book and it's a cracking tale that really demonstrates that making it in this world is not about climbing Mt Everest but overcoming the little things to succeed in every day life. What drove you to write it?

Scott:

It's been an interesting journey and it's a great question in terms of when, and the motivation, but it often started in conversations in taxis, talking to drivers about your life story as you do and a number of drivers would say, “It sounds like you’ve got quite a bit that could help people, have you thought of writing a book?” And I must admit, I did have a little bit of writing to draw on. Back when I was 16, I actually wrote a little autobiography called ‘The truth from a Teenager’ which I appreciate is a little dramatic but at that point I talked a bit about the school I went to, the friends I had and things like that. But I also talked a bit about my eyesight and someone who has retinitis pigmentosa, the eye condition, I talked about where my fight was at, at that point and I’d pledged that every ten years I would write another instalment so I wrote a little autobiography at 26 and 36 so I had a bit of material to work with and it was two years ago when I actually made the formal decision to start actually writing it, and very happily a colleague, Chris Mikul at MAA, came on board to help be my editor and so it was a bit of a two-year journey. Most of it got written, pulled together about 12 months ago but ultimately it's just turned out to be a really good thing but most of the credit really has to go to my editor, Chris, who turned it from rough scrawls into a book.

Philip:

Yes, and a good one at that. Scott, as a legally blind person, in practical terms, how did you actually write the book?

Scott:

I'm fortunate that as we've often talked about, in this day and age, there's so much great accessibility built into everyday products, be it tablets, be it phones, be it computers and the main thing I used was a Windows 10 computer and I used that through changing the colours to have light coloured text on a dark background. I often typed things into my book and I would zoom in so I could see the text really big on my screen and also I fired up the screen reader from time to time, when my eyes got tired. I could listen back to things and that was often helpful in picking up mistakes, especially as words got pronounced incorrectly so it was a combination of those tools and the wonderful thing in this day and age is that most of those tools are built in now.

Philip:

Scott, who was the book for? What audiences did you write it for?

Scott:

As you mentioned in your intro, the real aim of this book is to try and support people with disabilities and also families and carers of people with disabilities. I think now as a father I realise that it's probably harder for parents and carers to see a child that has a disability and know that it's something that they can't fix and there's something that they need to try to figure out how best to support them and so this book is really about helping people with disabilities know that certainly we all have our daily struggles and challenges and sometimes there are days where things are harder than others. And ultimately there's a lot of life to be led. If you can find a way to get out of that front door and do things and also have great support around you to do so then that makes the big difference. One of things I pick up in the book is that support and independence are both important and that might seem a bit contradictory but to be honest, I liken it to trying to change a light bulb. Sure you can jump from the floor and try and change a light bulb but it's a lot easier if you stand on a ladder. And really for my life that’s pretty much how it's been. Thanks to the support of people around me, with my family and my friends and colleagues, they’ve really been that ladder which means I can still live life independently but it's been great to have a lot of help along the way.

Philip:

And as I discovered through reading the book, you discovered creative writing. In addition to your IT speciality, do you feel that helped you when you sat down and began writing ‘Outrunning the Night’?

Scott:

Absolutely. And it's really interesting, in the book I talk about the journey as to how I ended up with a degree in computer science and creative writing which is a really odd combination but essentially I struggled with calculus in my first semester of computer science and this is a great example of when the right support at the right time makes all the difference. My course coordinator called my home and I was a bit worried about that because when he called, it was unusual to get a call at home and also he was using his full title rather than just use first name around campus, so I knew I was in trouble but he actually took the time to call and because he was interested in my education, he called my home explained that yes, my maths hadn’t gone very well and should we look at changing into a course where I can take out the maths and put in something else? And thanks to him, I mean I often reflect that I may have failed maths twice and been kicked out of university if it wasn’t for his intervention and so I ended up doing that creative writing minor and always believed that no knowledge is wasted knowledge and when I went into my career, working in computing, being able to do technical writing was a really important part and my creative writing helped a lot with that. And absolutely I think that the creative writing foundation really taught me how to write and it's been critical in going through this book process.

Philip:

Yes and the value of getting a good education is a recurring theme throughout ‘Outrunning the Night.’ Do you feel that it is of particular importance to those with a disability to ensure they get the best education they can?

Scott:

I do and as you say this is a really, really strong theme that constantly runs through the book of education. I mean I've been very blessed to have a lot of education and when you look at the statistics of people who are blind and vision impaired with nearly 60% unemployment and then you look at the stats around people with disabilities that do have jobs, you can see quite clearly that education makes a big difference and it doesn’t have to be formal university education. Ultimately, if you can find something that you enjoy, that you're passionate about and learn and study about it, then I really do believe it makes a huge difference in terms of your life opportunities and the ability to make a contribution. So I’d certainly put a call out to anyone that is considering their future that if you can get an opportunity to learn something in some sort of formalised training, whatever that may be, then it's going to make a huge difference in the long run.

Philip:

Your time at Media Access Australia starts in Chapter 8 of your book titled Career Phase 2 and that was following on from an enjoyable if somewhat up and down career on the help desk as an IT help desk guy. What are some of the major highlights of your time with Media Access Australia for which you continue to consult on special projects?

Scott:

I think one of the great things is to see just how much things have improved. When I started with Media Access in 2008, there was no such thing as an accessible iPhone, the whole concept of smartphones and apps was brand new and even the standard, the web content accessibility guidelines Version 2 that we rely on to make sure websites are accessible only came out in December 2008 so when I started working at Media Access Australia it was just remarkable how quickly things changed. Suddenly accessibility in terms of tools and the [0:07:59.7] technologies are built in rather than having to spend thousands of dollars. Suddenly we had standards that were adopted worldwide to make sure that we could make websites accessible. And to see that transformation of technology through that period and continue today, now we see accessibility being talked about in the Internet of Things and Augmented Reality and as we talked about before in the podcasts and I think when we do see these exciting developments we realise that the world is taking in accessibility a lot more seriously and it's been exciting through my career to be a part of that. And I would also like to acknowledge at this point just how wonderful Media Access Australia has been in supporting my book and their generosity. It really has been wonderful that I've had that support and the more that organisations like Media Access Australia work to support access, the better it gets for everyone.

Philip:

Too right. I mentioned earlier that your book wasn’t about climbing Mount Everest but you have journeyed to every continent on the planet. Which trip was the most inspiring?

Scott:

That’s a tough call. Just to explain the logic here, it's really important when you do have those bad days and you do struggle to get out your front door that you have something to help you make that leap and one of the things that has been very inspirational to me was that I had a friend who had cystic fibrosis and she died quite young unfortunately but she lived more life in her 23 short years than anyone else I've seen since and I think it's really thanks to her that my fear of travel, my fear of asking people to help me find the toilet, I never overcome that fear, I'm still scared to do those things but the approach these days is basically to be scared but try to do it anyway. And thanks really to her inspiration, my friend, I've been able to do the things that I've been passionate about. The front cover of the book comes from the very first trip I took as a result of my friend passing away and her inspiration where I got enough courage to travel to the Grand Canyon by myself and since then I've just wanted to keep travelling, keep experiencing different cultures, different places. In terms of a favourite, it's really hard. The world is an amazing place but probably the most recent major trip was with my friend to Antarctica so that one’s very vivid at the moment and one of the things that really struck me is that when you go to Antarctica it's like humans don’t exist and you're not the first people to walk there and penguins have no fear of you and they just waddle around and the landscape, even with my limited sight was breathtaking so there's lots and lots of wonderful things and I've got a few photos in the book to share that experience.

Philip:

That's right, you certainly do. Finally, Scott how can people purchase ‘Outrunning the Night’ as either a trade size paperback or as an audio book?

Scott:

There's a few different options. If people want to see all the options, you can go to www.outrunningthenight.com depending on where you are in the world there's the paperback available on amazon.com and amazon.co.uk. It's also available as a Kindle eBook so there's a few different options there. Also if people are in Australia, I've put some eBay listings out there for both the paperback and also the audiobook. The audiobook can be purchased either as a download or on a USB stick and the good thing about the audiobook is that you actually get four versions in one. Not only do you get the fantastically, professionally narrated audiobook from Visibility but you also get ePub, pdf and html versions as well, so I've tried to make it as accessible as possible, as varied as possible so whatever device you’ve got, you can check it out.

Philip:

That’s a lot of options and as you say, you’ve made it as accessible as possible which is brilliant.

Scott:

That’s it.

Philip:

Thank you for your time today Scott and congratulations again on putting together such an inspiring and riveting read.

Scott:

Thank you Philip and thanks again to Media Access Australia’s support.

Conclusion:

This podcast was presented by Media Access dot org dot au.

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