For University graduate Julie Sutherland, her white cane is a powerful symbol of ability.

Today Julie will graduate with a Masters in Management (Arts and Cultural Management) from the University of South Australia.

Her white cane, screen reader, braille, orientation and mobility instruction and her mentors, which include a prominent South East MP have been the keys to her success.

Thirty-three years ago Julie was the smallest, coldest baby to survive retrieval when she was born 16 weeks prematurely during a storm in the South East of South Australia. Her body temperature dropped to 31 degrees centigrade causing major organ failure.

Oxygen treatment after birth left her with Retrolental Fibroplasia affecting her vision – the same eye condition as entertainer Stevie Wonder and Australian legal academic Emeritus Professor Ron McCallum, AO the Senior Australian of the Year in 2011.

When young, Julie had some colour and light recognition but is now totally blind. As well, right-side Hemiparesis, another complication of her premature birth has resulted in weakness in Julie’s arm and leg.

Articulate and determined, Julie believes her graduation at Masters level is a great achievement.

“I call myself disabled, not because of my eyes that don’t work, but because society puts up artificial barriers,” she said. “My cane, braille and JAWS screen reader (Job Access with Speech) have enabled me.”

Out of her studies has come a passion for advocating for access to the arts, particularly for people living with sight or hearing impairment. She looks forward to the day when descriptive technologies are more widespread so people with a vision impairment can have the expressions, movements and other nuances of theatre, cinema, parades or television conveyed through words relayed through headsets.

Julie was a boarder at Townsend House as a young child and progressed to a TAFE Certificate 4 in Travel and Tourism and Advanced Diploma in Tourism and Business. Her love of tourism sparked from helping out at her parent’s Beachport backpacker hotel. A Start Right Disability Care program assisted with her learning choice.

She also believes the Willing and Able (WAM) mentoring program developed by Vision Australia Chairman Kevin Murfitt at Deakin University set her on the road to study. The scheme also brokered a mentoring program at the SA Tourism Commission providing work experience.

A university education wasn’t on Julie’s radar until it was suggested by a colleague of the mentor at the South Australian Tourism Commission, with postgraduate education being suggested by an Orientation and Mobility Instructor from Guide Dogs SA/NT. She is the first in her family to do so. Guide Dogs SA also assisted with furthering her Orientation and Mobility instruction learnt at school and assisted with her high school to the adult world and independent living skills.

The University’s Learning and Teaching Unit were pivotal in providing assistance during lectures and a Charles Bright Scholarship assisted with the cost of buying text books.

The Chief Executive of Guide Dogs SA/NT Kate Thiele said that it was wonderful to witness such achievement by people living with disability.

“Through the services and support Julie has received from Guide Dogs SA and other organisations and her education facilities, combined with her enthusiasm to achieve, Julie has demonstrated that with opportunity can come a life of independence and inclusion.

“I look forward to the day when as a society we leave no one waiting in the dark.”

And Julie’s message to others living with disability?

“Follow your dreams,” she said. “Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t achieve and be true to yourself.”

And for her part Julie says she is following her dream, declaring: “I haven’t finished yet,” hoping to gain employment in the arts or tourism industries and on a personal level, travel the world.