lifestyle

This newsreader's listeners have no idea she is blind and has limited sense of touch.

Nas Campanella ABC tv
Triple J newsreader, Nas Campanella

ABC radio’s Nas Campanella has one of those amazing radio voices. It’s a voice that you would happily listen to even if she was reading a shopping list or the chemical ingredients in your deodorant.

Reading the news for Triple J, she sounds knowledgeable, compassionate, authoritative and in control.

Away from the microphone, this 26-year-old newsreader from Sydney is all of those things.

She is also blind.

Nas lost her eyesight at six months old when blood vessels burst at the back of her eyes, damaging her retinas. She can see some shadows and light, but that’s all. Her younger brother has the same genetic condition that caused Nas’s retina detachment, but his eyesight was saved by laser surgery that wasn’t available when Nas was a baby.

Nas confesses that without her eyesight, and with the complication of a medical condition (Charcott-Marie-Tooth) that left her with limited sensitivity in her fingers and unable to read braille, school was a struggle.

Nas started to learn by using computer programs which turned words on a computer into sound. She told ABC’s Behind the News, “It made the world of difference because I hated reading, I hated learning and then once I discovered an easier way to do it opened up all these new doors.”

Nas went on to study journalism, and while she had experience working in broadcasting on community radio, she struggled to get work after graduating.

“I looked good on paper in terms of all voluntary experience I had in the industry, samples of work I had looked great, but it wasn’t until I got to interview stage when they found out I had a vision impairment,” she says. “It was like all of a sudden they just changed their attitude it was a big “No”. It was pretty heartbreaking.”

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Nas told Broadsheet that she was essentially just put into the “too-hard basket” by employers: “I guess not a lot of people have met people with disabilities, and not a lot of people are open-minded about what they’re capable of.”

In 2011, Nas applied for a journalism cadetship at the ABC. They saw what other employers had failed to: she was an excellent journo-in-training with a smooth radio voice and stand-out skills. She says, “there were tears. [I was] pretty happy. They were willing to take a chance when no one else was”.

But it was less of a gamble on the ABC’s part and more of a smart investment decision. As part of her training, she spent a year working in regional radio, where she reported and read the news in Bega in NSW. She returned to Sydney in 2013 to the ABC’s Triple J, where she puts together and reads news bulletins every hour.

Nas Campanella radio
Nas at work at the ABC. “They were willing to take a chance when no one else was”.

How Nas does it would have every employer who said “no” to her kicking themselves.

To prepare the news bulletin, she relies on a speech program called Jaws, an electronic voice that reads what she’s typing. When she is presenting the news, that same electronic voice reads the text to her and she repeats it. She says, “I am reading a second or two behind. It can’t be any more than that or I would be stumbling all over the place”.

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In her other ear, a talking clock tells her how much time she has left – and she can hear her own voice and the relevant audio-grabs. In total, she listens to four different streams of audio – all while she is speaking.

Nas also produces her own show by using velcro pads on her radio mixing desk to start the audio-grabs and mute and unmute her microphone.

The hardest part? It’s not all the voices or the mixing desk. It’s not the pressure of delivering on deadline for a national radio program. It’s the speech program that struggles with Australian places and people’s names: “He [the program] often says stuff wrong – such as ‘Wag-a Wag-a’ for Wagga Wagga or ‘Coe-barney’ for Cobain. I often stumble on cricketers’ and sportspeople’s names.”

Nas Campanella radio interview
“I often forget that people find it impressive that someone’s reading the news who can’t see.”

Having recently travelled to Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, Nas aspires to a career as a travel writer. As Nas points out, actually seeing the sights is not the best part of travel: “I have a whole different perspective on travelling that involves deeper exploration into what the people are like, the smells, the terrain, people’s explanations and the food.”

While she gives motivational speeches to parents of children with a disability (“I’ve been living out of home a long time now, working, doing what normal people do,” she says), Nas plays off any notion that it’s her disability that makes her inspirational. She says she’s just a woman who loves her job: “I just like it. At the end of the day I go home and I feel good about my job and I look forward to it the next day.”

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