Assistive tech empowers business owner who’s blind

Do you dream of having your own business? Ever felt that your lack of sight was holding you back? Warren Bull from Denmark is proof that you can be a successful small business owner despite blindness or vision loss.

Warren runs and operates Misty Valley Country Cottages (link opens in new window) in Denmark. He was born with inoperable cataracts leading to a loss of vision and two prosthetic eyes. Twenty-four years ago, he and his wife Leonie decided to quit their lives in the Perth Hills to become owner/managers of a farming property north-west of the town and built two self-contained holiday chalets.

Image shows Michael scattering seed for the chickens who are in a large pen..
Guests are able to collect eggs from the chickens. (Image: Michael Dolphin)

He says his work has been made easier over time because of assistive technology. We decided to ask him why he’s able to do what he does and why he enjoys his life in the country.

You say that assistive technology for business enables you to do your work, how?

There’s plenty of assistive technology for business that has opened up a new world to enable me to do the work I do. Plus, a devoted, supportive and understanding wife. JAWS software (link opens in new window) is one of the most popular screen readers and is easy to use. JAWS is the acronym for Job Access With Speech and is a computer screen reader program for Microsoft Windows. It means anyone with vision impairment can read a screen with text-to-speech or use a Braille display. Because it works with Microsoft, I can download the calendar and manage bookings.

People shouldn’t be afraid of technology. For anyone with disabilities, it’s opening up a world of possibilities. I first started using JAWS twenty years ago. It was very basic and cumbersome back then, but it has advanced so much now.

Warren sits in front of his computer in his home office.
Warren uses a JAWS screen reader when he’s on his computer. (Image: Michael Dolphin)

The Assistive Technology team at VisAbility can help. I am about to have some more sessions following updates to the Microsoft Windows program.

In my opinion the iPhone is the most accessible and user friendly phone on the market, particularly for anyone with a vision impairment. I have a very old piece of Humanware equipment – a keyboard that speaks to me.

What about getting around your holiday complex?

Misty Valley Country Cottages covers 60 acres. It’s a farm stay experience with cows, goats, rabbits, chooks and horses and storage units which is a side line business.
Guests can collect eggs from the chickens and meet the animals.

We used to have 110 acres, but I sold 50 acres two and a half years ago because I am in my mid-sixties and wanted to scale back a bit.

Because of familiarity with my surroundings, I have created my own self-fabricated white cane for the rough terrain at the farm. I also have a standard white cane. We have a four-wheel motor bike that my wife Leonie uses going to and forth chalets.

Warren holding a bale of hay. He's approaching a barbed wire fence - behind is a field containing three horses.
The livestock, chickens and horses all need feeding and looking after. (Image: Michael Dolphin)

Although we have quite a lot of acreage, we are a small operation which means our guests receive a very personalised experience.

The average length of stay is three nights, although it varies a lot depending on the time of year.

Who are your guests?

Mainly families and couples, some people come back time and time again. When guests arrive, I make a point of explaining that I am blind so that they don’t feel awkward or embarassed.

We had a family stay some years ago with a daughter who was thirteen who was losing her sight. Her parents thought it would be beneficial for her to witness what I’d achieved, to inspire her.

There was another couple who came to stay and the husband explained he was going blind because of a medical condition and had to give up driving. During his stay, he was able to talk openly about his concerns and his journey forward without any vision. Visability has supported me since I lost my sight and I felt I was able to reassure him. He left with a better understanding about what to expect in the future and the knowledge that a fulfilling and enjoyable life was still very possible.

I explained that in our digital age, there is plenty of assistive technology for business available to help people living with low vision to carry on working.

Tell us about your backstory?

I have no vision. I was born with inoperable cataracts. My right eye was removed and then my vision in my remaining eye deteriorated. When I was seven I lost my sight altogether. While my vision loss happened at an early age, that remembrance of what it was like living with sight has helped me with my mobility. It’s given me an appreciation of colours and shapes.

Warren carries a bucket of food stuff alongside a pen. Two Golden Retrievers walk alongside him.
Warren has run the cottage complex near Denmark for nearly a quarter of a century. (Image: Michael Dolphin)

My wife Leonie and I had visited Denmark and the Walpole area over many years and then this land became available in a wooded setting fifteen minutes from Greens Pool. At the time I was a silent partner in my brother’s printing business and undertaking music work and massage therapy on the side.

I have no regrets. This is a great business in terms of lifestyle and income. This is my advice to others thinking of starting a small business:

  • Start off small so you can settle and if it works for you, look at expanding if required.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help and look at ways it will work for you with your disability.
  • Use your disability to your advantage, tell people that you have no sight. You then become a role model for other business entrepreneurs.
  • Don’t think you can do everything. For example, When the cows start calving, Leonie becomes what I affectionately call the ‘official cow observer’. There are some things you just cannot do!

Want to know what assistive technology for business is available to help you in the work place?

There’s a wide range of tools available for people with no or limited vision. Whether you need support using a phone or computer, you can be sure there’s technology to help. NDIS funding is often available for assisitive technology.

How to get support

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