It’s not every day you meet a 14-year-old who has won an international peace award, addressed the United Nations, and impressed the Duchess of Cornwall.
But Brisbane student Joshua Wood has done exactly that—and he’s just getting started. He also happens to have been born blind, but that’s not stopping him from achieving his goals. The right support means he is navigating the world on his terms and achieving his amazing potential.
Joshua has been learning braille and how to use his other senses and assistive technology with the support of his parents and NextSense since he was less than 12 months old.
His mum Jenny says Joshua first got used to braille using tennis balls in muffin tins and learning the different combinations of the ‘dots’. His braille teacher, Tricia D’Apice, who is a NextSense Lead Consultant—Vision Impairment, has been working with Joshua since he was four years old. They meet every week, and Joshua also meets regularly with our Connected Services team, who virtually support him and the learning he receives at his school.
‘My relationship with the Wood family has been a long one’ says Tricia. ‘Joshua loves braille, and over the years his capabilities and confidence have improved greatly.’
Tricia’s dedication to students like Josh was acknowledged this week when she received the Medal of the Order of Australia for her service to education for people with vision impairment.
The NextSense Accessibility and Inclusion team has also been instrumental in ensuring Joshua can access the resources and materials he needs to participate and excel in school. Textbooks, curriculum materials, assessments and exams are all made available in braille, so Joshua can access these at the same time as his classmates. In 2021 alone, Joshua was able to access about 150 braille documents to carry out his studies.
And study he did—achieving straight A’s last year and an award for academic excellence. At the same time, he became the first Australian to win the 2020-21 Lions Peace Essay Contest—a prestigious international competition created to give blind and low vision young people the opportunity to express the relationship between service and peace.
Joshua’s winning essay, which was written in braille, focused on ‘Peace through service’ and what he has learnt about peace from his grandfather, a WW2 veteran. He credits his grandfather with his realisation that doing good for others, can bring self-peace.
‘It was just incredible because I didn’t realise my writing was that good, I just couldn’t believe that I won an international competition like that,’ Joshua says.
While COVID-19 prevented him from addressing the UN in person in New York, Josh was able to give his address virtually and made an appearance in Canberra where he received a standing ovation.
A Royal encounter
But this isn’t the first time this humble high achiever has been internationally recognised. In 2017 both Joshua and his older brother Ben were highly commended in the Queen's Commonwealth Essay Competition—the world's oldest international writing competition for schools.
Both submissions caught the attention of the Duchess of Cornwall. Joshua’s impressive essay was the first submission received in braille since the competition was established in 1883.
‘The boys got a phone call saying the Duchess of Cornwall had read their entries and she was very impressed by them, and so she invited them to attend the award ceremony at Buckingham palace. It was unbelievable,’ Joshua’s mum, Jenny says.
Joining Joshua on his education journey
‘When Joshua was a baby, the NextSense team would send a bag full of goodies and information on what to do and how to play. We would do a video conference and tell me what to do and how to stimulate Josh,’ says Jenny.
‘I had no experience having a blind child, so it was very helpful. I felt so supported.’
NextSense continued to support Joshua as he grew and began attending his high school. But there’s no doubt that Joshua’s effort and commitment are what propels him forward. ‘I put in a lot of hard work. My family gets around me and helps a lot,’ he says.
Jenny says NextSense has given her family more than accessibility support.
‘It has also given my husband and I emotional support over the years that has been a massive help. All the staff at NextSense have been amazing. Tricia [Joshua’s braille teacher] just feels like family now. She has dedicated her life to kids like Josh and they have a really special relationship*.’
Joshua not only excelled in academics throughout the year but was also named Queensland’s junior blind golf champion for the second year in a row, winning the 2021 and 2020 competitions.
What’s next for Joshua in 2022? He is looking forward to getting back to school and is considering entering more writing competitions. After school, he hopes to study architecture at university.
‘I would like to be an architect when I grow up—I enjoy architecture and engineering. I enjoy designing buildings and the design side in particular,’ he says.
*Joshua attended a NextSense (then RIDBC) residential braille camp, supported by Hyundai Help 4 Kids.