Dog called Henry breaks down barriers
IT'S been nine years since Bev Larsson lost her sight.
On a visit to Aceh in Indonesia, she felt ill and could see only blackness.
The abrupt loss of eyesight was due to a toxin attacking her optic nerves, resulting in bilateral optic nerve atrophy.
"I had 10 days in a Singapore hospital. I was tested for everything,” Bev said.
"(My condition) happens to people of all ages for different reasons.”
Bev was told she was permanently blind and to "learn to live with it”.
"That's when I felt I'd been served a prison sentence I didn't deserve,” she said.
For a woman who'd worked as a nurse unit manager, activities director on Heron Island, and dive master - someone who was also used to contributing to the community - the diagnosis was shattering.
"I was so capable and competent before,” she said.
"It was a very, very challenging period.
"I turned 50 within a few months after I'd lost my sight.”
As it happened, her saving grace turned out to be a black labrador named Henry.
"The best thing I ever did was put my hand up for a guide dog,” Bev said.
"He's been the most therapeutic, anti-depressant source of independence and freedom.
"I just trust his judgment.
"Henry was the agent to get me out of bed and make me walk the beach.
"He's an ice-breaker. Socially, he breaks down the barriers.”
Bev also pays tribute to her husband Baz, for "the most amazing support”.
Used to public speaking and educating others, Bev found a new mission in life through Guide Dogs Australia.
She co-wrote a children's book, Along Came Henry, and visits schools to give youngsters an idea about the life of a person with vision impairment, and how to approach guide dogs.
"If you can educate a child how to behave around a working dog, they educate others,” Bev said.
While she's making a contribution to the understanding of people with a disability, Bev is also helping herself.
"I needed a purpose. I felt that I was a drain on society,” she said.
"I lost all my confidence and I didn't want people to feel sorry for me.
"Psychologically, I was so disempowered.
"For me to reinvent myself, I had to find a purpose.
"I hope I'm dispelling the myth about disability and bringing people closer to understanding that visual impairment is just something you learn to live with.
"It might limit your ability but it doesn't create too many barriers.”
Bev talks of "beautiful feedback” from the schoolchildren she's spoken to - in the form of letters, poems, posters and kind comments.
She won the overall prize at the 2017 Tweed Shire Access and Inclusion Awards recently, mainly for her presentations.
To celebrate the 60th anniversary of Guide Dogs NSW/ACT, Bev and Henry appeared in a collection of 60 short stories titled 60 Tails.
In 2018, Bev aims to continue her speaking role, by addressing State Parliament in March, and possibly through an interview with ABC Radio's Richard Fidler.
"I want people to understand, losing their sight is not the end of the world,” she said.
"But it's not easy either.”
To book Bev Larsson to speak to your class, school, business or community group, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Order 60 Tails at www.guidedogs.com.au/60tails.