'Whole new world' for Wendy thanks to NDIS plan

 

The National Disability Insurance Scheme has “opened up a whole new world” for Tumut’s Wendy Arentz. The 62 year-old is vision and hearing impaired. Her congenital vision impairment, affecting mostly her central vision, worsened with other health issues from the age of 21, causing further deterioration which included more peripheral vision loss. Wendy’s hearing impairment weakened over time with the crux occurring when aged in her thirties during an aeroplane flight. But Wendy now has the support of the NDIS, and Intereach – the community and human services organisation delivering Local Area Coordination services in the Murrumbidgee / Far West area on behalf of NDIS Partner, Social Futures.

“I was born with mostly central vision loss, but with my right eye almost nothing remained. I also had some peripheral impairment. I’m legally blind. I can remember in my teen years standing at the bottom of our hill with my brother. I had a question posed at school to draw ‘perspective’ but was unable to understand it. I asked my brother and he explained the process of how things were smaller or thinner the further away they are. He then described a bird’s antics and the detail of its colouring, quite a distance away, but I couldn’t detect where. It was then I realised my vision must be different. I questioned whether he was making it all up for my benefit and could he really ‘see’ what he was telling me. I had never thought about what I could see or not. I’d previously just assumed everyone saw the same as me – saw the blur, had difficulty focusing, lacking depth, needing vivid strong colours and reliance on good contrast with a lot of audio description if you really wanted to know what was happening around you with someone to tell you who people were other than just a blob with no face. Growing up I spent most of my time compensating to achieve results. I kept in my comfort zone, rarely venturing into activities, so few knew of my disability. I listened intently and always questioned to glean information. I spent hours, often into the early hours of the morning, or no sleep at all, just catching up on study and lectures to keep up. It took a great deal of effort and concentration.”

Wendy’s hearing problem started as a child with the usual ear abscesses, which weakened her hearing. But it was years later, on a flight for work, when the more severe damage was inflicted.

“My ear felt uncomfortable and then the pain became excruciating with the pressure in the plane. My ear felt like someone had a piece of material tearing it up the middle leaving me with a perforated eardrum. Although it healed somewhat, over the years the hearing declined. It’s ironic – my left eye in its own way is ‘better’ than my right, and my right ear ‘better’ than my left.”

Like many people with a disability, Wendy’s story is one of achievement and ‘overcoming the odds’. But it’s also one of daily battles, carefully navigating everyday tasks that many people take for granted. Wendy lives with her husband, Tom, in the South-West Slopes region of NSW on the foothills of the Snowy Mountains. On meeting her future husband while holidaying in Queensland, Wendy made the ‘tree change’ from Melbourne about 20 years ago after marrying Tom. Tom was raised on his family’s farm in Tumut.

“The NDIS has changed our lives for the better. I signed on to a self-managed (NDIS) plan in July 2017 and it’s not as daunting as you might expect. I am on my third plan now, which finishes in 2021. The NDIS gives me more independence and confidence, and I have freedom of choice and control over who I want as the provider of my services. I budget accordingly, pay the accounts and actually enjoy the administrative work that’s involved. I’m lucky to have such a great Local Area Coordinator, Emily, from the Wagga Intereach office. So far it’s been a great experience and it’s helped me attain assistive devices under the NDIS we otherwise couldn’t afford, such as the Prodogi Connect (distance viewing camera). Having the Prodigi I was able to take it to the recent Carols by Candlelight, a local workshop and for a guest’s presentation at our Rotary meeting. The camera brings what I focus it on up on a screen and I’m able to move it and zoom in on what’s going on. Previously, I would just sit there and get nothing out of the whole event – it’s brilliant! This is just one aspect of the Prodigi but it performs in more ways as well. These devices have helped improve my life and we wouldn’t have been able to afford them without the NDIS. I’ve also been able to access training to use the ‘assistive technology’ through my NDIS plan.”

But the most empowering assistance for Wendy as part of her NDIS plan comes from her new best friend, a guide dog named Amos.

“Having Amos has given me so much more confidence. The many people that know me in the local area are telling Tom and I they’ve never seen me move so quickly in the streets or at local events. I am so much more independent – I can go to local events even if Tom can’t get there or he can’t get there until later. I used to get around using a long guide cane or holding on to someone; I’m not as reliant on my husband and I’m happier because I don’t have to rely on people as much as I used to. Obstacles are a thing of the past, especially in crowded places, Amos just goes around them, so I feel comfortable to go knowing I’m not going to disturb anything too much. I can get to places when I want to with no worries about stubbing toes or knocking over obstacles or getting the cane caught and then disrupting everything trying to get it out. And Tom’s not as worried about me because he knows I’m more accomplished now with Amos. Having a guide dog has changed my life and we’ve already formed a strong bond; he’s part of our family now, along with our other dog, Freddie, who’s about 10 years old and who we got from the SMART Animal Rescue Sanctuary. I’m so grateful for the support of Guide Dogs NSW/ACT and Intereach in that the NDIS was able to see my request for a guide dog as a major mobility aid, deeming it as both ‘reasonable’ and ‘necessary’ and it’s certainly opened up a whole new world for me.”

As a young child Wendy cared for her mother until her mum’s death, when she was just 12 years old. Wendy has worked most of her adult life – firstly enjoying her training and working as a nurse before spending 12 years with a blind mission speaking at meetings on behalf of the organisation. For 12 years she worked for a consultant surgeon transcribing medical reports and performing administrative duties and later becoming practice manager. Wendy has worked for other organisations, mostly people and customer service orientated positions including her own catering and accommodation businesses; her husband’s business; teaching modelling and acting; and spending several years working in the home care industry, which she loved, while at the same time caring for her parents-in-law for eight years.

“I’ve never been afraid of a challenge. I’m still helping my husband with administration of his building and estimating business, and I enjoy church fellowship and community work and camaraderie with Rotary, doing what I can. With the NDIS support and especially of Amos, I anticipate more social and community involvement. I’ve agreed to be a member of the Reference Group for PLATFORM, which aims to increase participation and visibility of both artists and people with disability at community events across the region. NDIS supports transport and social and community participation which has given me a new lease on life, facets I haven’t ventured into before … Amos and I are going to be busy! I’ve been very lucky to have such a great Local Area Coordinator and the support of Intereach’s hard work, documentation and patience; they’ve made the whole NDIS process a good experience. If I have any queries via email or phone with Intereach or NDIS, I have an answer quickly. I have to thank everyone at Guide Dogs NSW/ACT. I’m so happy that Guide Dogs NSW/ACT will gain some funding for support, training and instructing of the whole Guide Dog process that has enabled me to have such a highly educated Guide Dog. I’m certainly looking forward to the future as I gain further confidence, independence, safety and, above all, new found freedom! I’m very grateful that NDIS saw it ‘necessary and reasonable’ to fully fund my Guide Dog companion. Together, Guide Dogs NSW/ACT, Intereach and the NDIS are enabling great things to happen for me. I’m enthusiastic at the opportunities I’m ready to grasp. The NDIS and the staff at Intereach with Guide Dogs NSW/ACT have enabled me to make choices, control my life and live it the way I choose to meet my goals to better my life, to be more independent, confident and safe. The information, services and support provided have already helped me have an increased enthusiasm for participating in my local community more than I have for some years. Together we all worked extremely hard to achieve such a positive result.”

Wendy said being under the NDIS has far-reaching benefits.

“Most importantly it enhances my ability to be included and equal and it fulfils my quality of life.”

                                                                     

Wendy and Amos sharing a moment at a restaurant.                        Wendy and Amos at Yarrangobilly Caves.