Student with a vision for the future

Reading Time: 3 minutes
Author Jacob Butler with his sister Lizzy who illustrates the books. Photo: Alphonsus Fok
Author Jacob Butler with his sister Lizzy who illustrates the books. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

Six-year-old Jacob Butler has a clear vision for the future.

He wants to be a best-selling author and movie-maker and doesn’t see the fact he is legally blind an impediment to his aspirations.

His family says the unwavering support they have received from St Michael’s at Meadowbank has enabled him to get where he is today, but it’s the school community themselves who say Jacob has taught them so much more.

Empathy, acceptance, humility and determination are all qualities the little boy born with a rare congenital condition exemplifies daily.

One of 37 students in Sydney Catholic Schools with vision issues, the Year 1 student is already well on his way to achieving his goal. He has written three books which follow the adventures of unlikely hero Mr Onion which have become some of the most borrowed from his school library.

Jacob at his Braille machine with his mum Lesleigh. Photo: Alphonsus Fok
Jacob at his Braille machine with his mum Lesleigh. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

Presented in both English and Braille and illustrated by his 10-year-old sister Lizzy, Jacob hopes the books give a rare glimpse into his world of darkness.

“I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I just didn’t think it would happen so soon – but now that it has it’s so cool,” he said.

“Sometimes it can be a bit hard not seeing as good as everybody else, but mostly it’s pretty good.

“I started off with just Mr Onion, but I am going to bring in Mrs Onion and brother Onion who is going to be blind in the next few books.

“It will show my friends what it’s like to be me and not be able to see very well.

“My friends are really good and sometimes they even say they wish they were like me.

“When I get older I would like to keep writing and then turn my books into movies.”

Determined to achieve his goal

Jacob at his Braille machine punching out his next book. Photo: Alphonsus Fok
Jacob at his Braille machine punching out his next book. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

If his sense of determination and courage is any indication, mum Lesleigh has no doubts he will achieve his goal.

She said he has always been so positive and taken his vision impairment in his stride and actually asked her “why do I have to go to the doctor? There’s nothing wrong with me”.

The Butler family are all currently learning Braille so they can gain a valuable insight into Jacob’s world as well as do normal things together as a family like read and help him with homework.

A lawyer by trade, she has become an advocate for those with vision impairment and hopes Jacob’s books will be seen by a wider audience than his school community.

Support teacher Catherine Davies said the idea of Jacob writing the books came from trying to come up with interesting ways to encourage him to learn Braille, a skill sometimes thought a little out of date in today’s digital world.

Support teacher Catherine Davies with Jacob, Lizzy and mum Lesleigh. Photo: Alphonsus Fok
Support teacher Catherine Davies with Jacob, Lizzy and mum Lesleigh. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

“I’m often asked if Braille is still needed and relevant and the simple answer is yes,” she said.

“Audio books are wonderful but listening is not reading. You don’t learn spelling, punctuation and how pages are formatted by listening.

“Listening is a passive activity whereas reading is active. Reading Braille is reading.

“Technology today makes Braille even more available and portable than ever before. Instead of large paper Braille volumes, there are now refreshable Braille displays available for computers and also in small, portable Braille notetakers which function like a laptop just without a screen.

“Small pins raise to form the Braille characters and can be used not only for reading but for navigating the internet.”