When the famous Fred Hollows diagnosed Steve Widders with cone dystrophy 24 years ago, and likened his failing eyesight to ‘bad film in a good camera’, the Armidale resident’s life was turned upside down.
Then aged just 34, with a growing family and working in the public sector, Steve said losing his sight made him increasingly anxious as he ‘didn’t want to be dependent on others’. The anxiety grew when he could no longer drive.
Thankfully, a friend who is blind explained the benefits of a long cane to Steve, who quickly made an appointment with Guide Dogs NSW/ACT. With training from an Orientation and Mobility Instructor at home, around town and at his workplace, Steve soon mastered the long cane and as his fears fell away, his confidence returned.
“I would be lost without my cane. It gives me independence and confidence, and reassurance that other people will realise I have a vision impairment,” says Steve who has developed a passion for walking – whether it be into town, to the gym or a long distance fundraiser. In 2011, Steve and Jason Bake, another man with impaired vision, walked the gruelling Kokoda Track with the ‘Blind Courage’ team, raising over $50,000 to train a Guide Dog puppy in honour of their efforts.
While Steve has just retired from full-time work, he’s not sitting still. When he’s not out walking, ‘Uncle Steve’ mentors Aboriginal students at the Armidale High School about the importance of health and fitness, and he regularly travels to Sydney for meetings within the disability sector.
For every Guide Dog, we train 30 cane users. Find out more