We first met Olivia Depares when she was three months old, when Clinical Professor Catherine Birman, who is now the Medical Director of our cochlear implant program, diagnosed her profound bilateral hearing loss.
Since then, we’ve walked alongside her as she received her two cochlear implant surgeries, first when she was 11 months old and on her second side when she was nine years old. Cochlear implant pioneer Professor Bill Gibson, who established our cochlear implant program in the early 1980s, performed Olivia’s surgery.
At age four, Olivia was diagnosed with Usher’s Syndrome, which means she also has vision loss. Retinitis pigmentosa has caused significant damage to Olivia’s peripheral and night vision, so her field of vision is 10 degrees instead of the usual 170 degrees.
We worked together with Olivia and her parents, Jenny and Jeff, to help her navigate life with her dual sensory loss. We were there through her school years, providing school support services to her as she continued her education in independent schooling
Olivia is now 25. She recently addressed a special NextSense gathering of long-standing friends and supporters at Admiralty House, hosted by our Vice Regal Patrons His Excellency General the Honourable David Hurley AC DSC (Retd), and Her Excellency Mrs Linda Hurley.
She told our Patrons and our guests just how important it was to get the right support in order to reach her potential. Olivia’s impressive achievements include achieving an ATAR of 97.5 in her Higher School Certificate, graduating with honours in Arts and Law from Macquarie University, and recently being admitted as a lawyer to the Supreme Court of New South Wales. She now works in the field of migration law, helping people obtain temporary and permanent residency in Australia.
‘The staff of NextSense assisted in helping my school teachers in modifying and adapting their lessons to best suit my needs,’ she said.
‘My teachers were provided with the support they needed to use technology for my benefit. The staff of NextSense were also constantly advocating for a safe and inclusive school environment. I was able to attend school excursions with safety and even travel overseas on several school trips with the training, support and encouragement of the NextSense team.
‘Because of this support, I have been able to enjoy an incredible schooling experience. NextSense has provided me with critical skills which have allowed me to gain the confidence to continue my education, gain employment, live independently and to enjoy more overseas travel.’
Speaking at the event, NextSense President David Dinte said the support of our loyal donors and partners, who are invested in our work, was central to our organisation’s ability to honour our 162-year-old legacy and continue delivering services that lead the way.
‘We just wouldn’t be who we are without you,’ he said.
‘You really are part of a special community that has thrived over many years and whose strength is its unity of purpose. And that purpose is putting in place the right foundations that can help Olivia and many, many others to succeed.
‘We are passionate believers in the need to break down barriers, so those we work with are free to live life on their own terms. [Olivia’s] experience reminds us of the incredibly exciting things that are possible when we focus our energy on removing obstacles for both children and adults with hearing and vision loss.’