Katie and guide dog Ari prove support is the key to success
Katie Butler is a shining example of how a second chance to pursue a tertiary education, and ongoing support, can achieve a dream.
After leaving high school during Year 11, the vision-impaired student completed the University of Newcastle's tertiary preparation program, Newstep. On Thursday 4 April 21-year-old Katie will cross the Great Hall stage with her trusted guide dog companion Ari, to collect her Bachelor of Social Science with distinction. Ari too will receive a certificate of recognition to acknowledge his support during Katie's university study.
"I loved studying at Newcastle," Katie said. "I had fantastic lecturers and tutors and I made lifelong friends. I completed Newstep in the year that would have been my HSC year and I think Newstep was a much better option for me because I was able to study in an environment that really encouraged success and further study. I am eternally grateful to my lecturers in that program."
Katie credits technology and support services as the key to her study success. A Vision Australia Further Education Bursary helped her purchase vital equipment such as a computer program that interprets written information into synthesised voice output. Katie also used an electronic Braille computer.
"I received a lot of assistance from the Adaptive Technology Centre staff on campus, who made sure I had access to all readings and textbooks that I needed. The Disability Support service also assisted me, and my lecturers and tutors were always helpful and understanding. I simply could not have studied without this technology and the support."
As for her mate Ari, theirs was a match made in heaven, and one that considered Katie's needs as a student.
"I began training with Ari one month before starting Newstep. Much of our training was carried out on the Ourimbah campus so he is well and truly a Uni dog and very special to me. Ari has given me a huge amount of independence and confidence to pursue my studies.
"I remember my first day on the Callaghan campus. Every other new student was running around all flustered trying to find their classrooms, but Ari and I had already been trained by Guide Dogs NSW/ACT to find all my classes, so we were the most knowledgeable and confident of the lot."
Katie and Ari have left a lasting impression on lecturer, Professor Dennis Foley, who appreciated the feedback Ari provided on his teaching skills.
"I have been lecturing for near on 20 years and have had numerous guide dogs in my classes. Ari definitely has charm and a presence that has helped me in the delivery of my subjects," Professor Foley said.
"When he is restless in tutorials it's time to change subject matter; when he snores I am boring - a sign to lift my game; when he watches and the tail tap, tap, taps on the chair leg I am interesting and he likes the pace of discussion and delivery. It's not easy teaching a Labrador but when you get it right, it is very satisfying."
Katie currently works in community development, focusing on disability access and community inclusion. Her dream is to undertake research in the field of disability to assist in removing barriers to full social and economic inclusion of people with disabilities.
Katie Butler and her companion Ari will graduate and the Faculty of Education and Arts ceremony at 10am on Thursday 4 April.