In a blue and white floral dress, complimented with teapot earrings, Nas Campanella stepped out of the taxi and walked with confidence, making friendly conversation.
Every word was deliberate and thoughtful, she spoke fast, but with clarity, a mark of a radio newsreader.
Nas’s voice is familiar to anyone who tunes in to Triple J. For years, I knew nothing about the woman with the soothing, yet reliable voice, until one day, listening to an afternoon bulletin, my mum turned to me and asked, ‘Did you know Nas Campanella is blind?’.
Nas has been blind since she was six months old. You would assume she would read the news using braille, but due to a genetic disease called Charcot-Marie-Tooth, she lacks sensitivity in her fingertips, but this just makes what she does even more impressive.
Through school and university, Nas used a screen reading program called JAWS.
“It’s basically this little Americanised robotic sounding voice that scans everything on the screen and it reads it out loud,” she explained to the journalism students at Macleay, “So, as I’m typing, that screen-reading software will read out what I’m typing and that’s essentially how I learnt, by listening and by remembering.”
While reading the news, the robotic voice isn’t the only thing Nas is hearing. Through her headset, she can also hear herself presenting, the audio grabs she has cut and a timer counting her in and out of her three-minute time slot.
Example of JAWS recording via ABC Behind The News
Nas says she’s loyal to radio, because that’s how she learnt about the world around her and she has listened to ABC radio since she was just a child.
So a career in journalism became her goal.
“I love reading, I’m genuinely very curious, a little bit cynical – all those natural qualities I think you need as a journalist.”
After finishing her Bachelor of Communications at UTS, Nas struggled to get a job as a journalist, even though she had plenty of experience, taking on unpaid internships through university.
“I faced quite a lot of discrimination when I was initially applying for jobs,” Nas said.
“I would never disclose my disability in my job applications. Because there was no reason to, I wanted to be employed just based on merit.
“It was a little heartbreaking at times, but I guess I worked really hard, I wasn’t going to let it all be for nothing and all I really wanted was someone with an open mind.”
The ABC recognised her potential and she scored a cadetship in 2011. The following year Nas went to the regional NSW town of Bega.
“I could not recommend a regional posting more,” she said. “That was where I learnt how to write properly, how to sub edit properly, how to read news bulletins for the first time, how to run a regional newsroom, how to find original content.
“That’s where I really came into my form as a journo.”
Nas has done a bit of freelance travel writing in the past, for the Sydney Morning Herald, Lonely Planet and The Age, with hopes of doing more in the future.
“The first time I ever travelled someone said to me, ‘Why do you care about travel? You can’t see anything.’ I just thought it was an incredibly narrow way to see travel. It’s not just about the beautiful sunrises that you see over buildings and landscapes and all those sorts of things, it’s also about standing on the side of a street for example in Vietnam and just smelling and listening and feeling, and understanding all of that and trying to convey that to the audience.”
Nas never set out to pave the way for other journalists with a disability, but with the respect she has garnered over the years, that was probably inevitable. Her influence is not confined to Australia; Nas has helped lecturers in the UK and the US tailor their courses for people with disabilities.
“I hope that me having a really good job in the public eye and talking about it, I hope that just means there’s more employment opportunities in general, not just media, for people with disabilities. There are not enough opportunities at the moment.”
As for the future of quality journalism in Australia, Nas has complete faith.
“I work with journos every day, who are genuinely interested in what they do, genuinely interested in finding stories that are important and telling them in the right way,” she said.
“Journalism is changing, absolutely, but I think the important fundamentals of journalism remain the same, and that’s asking questions, it’s being impartial, accurate, balanced. Those things don’t change and I think that’s what anyone who is coming in to this industry needs to remember.” – Story and interview by Ash Cant, video by Jessica Spiteri