Never too late to graduate for blind student 

Paul Patteson with his guide dog Zac

Business student Paul Patteson was surprised at the response when he inquired at Charles Darwin University about finishing off his Masters of Business Administration degree.

He had left the course 10 years ago with about 90 per cent of the study program completed, with only a dissertation to be written up.

So it came as a pleasant surprise to be told that because the course requirements had changed over the years, he had done enough work to complete the Masters degree. His degree would be awarded in October at the final graduation ceremony for 2006.

Unfortunately, the news of his graduation reached him too late to attend. Mr Patteson had flown to Adelaide for family reasons and did not return to Darwin until after the ceremony.

Disappointed at missing out on the ceremony, Mr Patteson contacted CDU, which readily arranged for him to don his gown and mortar board for a ceremonial portrait in the campus photography studio at Casuarina.

What makes Mr Patteson’s graduation with a Masters degree remarkable is not the length of time between finishing the degree and getting his degree bestowed, but the fact that he is blind.

He suffers from a rare eye disease called choroidaremia, in which the blood cells in the retina are gradually starved of oxygen.

His genetic inheritance became apparent as a teenager, although he was able to complete his schooling and go on to an undergraduate degree from the Capricornia Institute of Technology (now the University of Central Queensland).

Despite his steadily deteriorating sight, Mr Patteson entered the computer industry as a consultant, coming to Darwin to work on government projects.

In 1992 he decided to improve his career prospects by entering the Masters of Business Administration at CDU.

‘I initially enrolled in the course fulltime, but found that with a family of four children to support it was too difficult to be both a student and a father,’ he says.

He reduced his studies to part-time but by 1995 had almost completed the Masters degree.

It was at that time that the government changed its rules on contracting out computer work and Mr Patteson found that his work as a private contractor began to shrink.

‘I decided to put the lessons I had learnt in the MBA course into practice, and began to run a poultry food franchise in Palmerston,’ he says.

But the business venture coincided with a more marked deterioration in his eyesight, and he found himself struggling to survive. He was eventually forced to sell out of the business.

He returned to computer consultancy work in Adelaide, working on Y2K projects as the world ticked over towards the Millennium.

After the breakdown of his marriage, Mr Patteson returned to Darwin, where he now raises funds for several blind-related charities – in the constant company of his guide dog Zac, who has been with him for seven years.

Mr Patteson has 0.05 per cent vision, which enables him to distinguish certain shapes and light sources, but he says doctors have warned him that he will eventually go completely blind.

Nevertheless, he is optimistic that he will find a job in which his blindness is no barrier to progress, and that he will be able to put his business skills learnt through experience and study to good use.