“WHEN life gets blurry, adjust the focus.”
That’s the motto Horsham’s Matt De Gruchy has lived by since being diagnosed as legally blind 12 years ago.
In 2006, Mr De Gruchy learned he had Stargardt’s disease, a form of juvenile macular degeneration.
He said a progressive loss of central vision had been challenging to say the least.
“Throughout my school years I found it very difficult adjusting to constantly failing vision in the early years of first being diagnosed,” he said.
“I now have roughly 6/60 vision and am legally blind.
“For example, someone that is looking at an object from a 60-metre distance, I would only see at six metres or less, depending on size.”
Mr De Gruchy said blindness and disabilities in general were far too misunderstood.
This is something he’s determined to change.
“The stigma surrounding blindness and disabilities is way off the mark. I feel as though we are judged and made to feel less than, in some cases,” he said.
“Why should we be frowned at when we ask for help to read a sign, or can’t see the EFTPOS machine?
“Society I feel is still very narrow-minded in some aspects.
“When people stand up and educate others to see the truth, that’s how stereotypes and stigmas will break down, one person at a time.”
Mr De Gruchy said one of the common misconceptions about blindness was that it separated people into two types: people who could see well, and those who could not see at all.
“In many cases, most people considered blind or legally blind don’t see “black” – it can be quite the opposite,” he said.
“The more vision you lose, the higher the sensitivity there is on your eyes. There for the blurred, bright glare of washed-out sight is what you might actually be left with.”
Mr De Gruchy advocates on social media and has raised money for See Through My Eyes, a charity dedicated to supporting vision-impaired people achieve their goals.
His work saw him named Horsham Florist’s Unsung Hero two years ago.
Since then, he has continued to share his message, and is kicking other personal goals.
Mr De Gruchy has wanted to travel to the United States of America for as long as he can remember.
He fulfilled his dream last month. He spent about four weeks in America ticking items off his bucket list.
During his time overseas, Mr De Gruchy met with the Two Blind Brothers in New York.
“I wanted to travel while I’m comfortable with the stable vision I retain at this time,” he said.
“New York wasn’t originally on the list of destinations – it was a last-minute decision.
“Bradford and Bryan are two brothers sharing the same eye condition as me. They are really kicking goals and breaking boundaries in the US.
“They run a successful clothing company that is heavily focused on feel and touch, to showcase there is more to clothing than just the look.
“Profits from all purchases go directly to finding a cure.
“They appeared on the Ellen DeGeneres show last year. They are supported by the likes of Ashton Kutcher, Richard Branson, NBC and AT&T, and have worked alongside the Foundation Fighting Blindness as well as many more creditable organisations.
“I met them both alongside their team in lower Manhattan and talked a out many things.
“I got heaps of knowledge and inspiration from them. We all share the same passion and direction: breaking the stereotypes of blindness, and finding a cure.
“Meeting Brad and Bryan was surreal. They liked what I was doing, and it was great exchanging stories of how we cope and get on with our poor vision.
“I hope to be in regular contact with them in the future and feel as though I have found great people that share the same vision as I do.”
Mr De Gruchy spent six days in New York City, and also travelled to Las Vegas, San Francisco and Los Angeles, and toured Alcatraz and Universal Studios.
He also hiked the Grand Canyon in Arizona.
Mr De Gruchy hopes to become a motivational speaker, and continue sharing his message of ‘ability not disability’.
“I’m willing to give anything a try. You never know until you try, and you also never truly fail when you take that step to try,” he said.
“My message to anyone out there struggling is always one of acceptance – if you live your life not accepting the past and looking to the future, you will not move forward.”
Mr De Gruchy said people could follow his experiences on Facebook by searching Mattdegruchy Vision, or on Instagram @mattdegruchy vision.