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Clem Devine - Oppenheim Trust Grant Recipient 2000

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You might assume that being half-blind would be an impediment to a career as a graphic designer and artist - but that's not the way Clem Devine sees it.

A 19-year-old Bachelor of Design student at Massey University's Wellington campus, Clem lost all sight in one eye three years ago and lives under constant threat of the same thing happening to his other eye at any time.

You see, he was born with a triple whammy of medical conditions: kerataglobus and kerataconus, which mean his eyes are so fragile that he can't even rub them without risking serious damage; and osteogenesis imperfecta, otherwise known as brittle bone syndrome. Even a minor blow to the head can cause his unusually thin cornea to rupture (he lost his right eyesight when his brother accidentally dived on top of him during a swimming carnival), while the cornea's filminess means it tends to bend, causing distorted vision in his 'good' eye.

So, just to preserve his precious vision, Clem has to be "ultra cautious" every minute of the day. On top of his sight-impairment, he also has severe to profound hearing loss in one ear and moderate to profound hearing loss in his other ear. But Clem sees a bright side. "Having to be hyper-aware of situations surrounding me is actually really good for art and design. You become really sensitive to your space, measuring your surroundings constantly."

Clem, formerly a Southland Boys' High pupil, has been named one of this year's recipients of the Oppenheim Tertiary Education Trust, receiving a $2000 grant to assist with his studies. The trust was set up 11 years ago by Dr Leonard Oppenheim and his wife Virginia on their 50th wedding anniversary and is administered nationally by the Royal New Zealand Foundation for the Blind. The Oppenheims, an elderly Waikanae couple, have both had to deal with visual impairment in their own lives. Dr Oppenheim is a Harvard graduate and was a professor of law in the United States for 40 years. He has been virtually blind for the past 30 years and his own tertiary education was possible only because of a scholarship, having been raised in New Orleans by immigrant German parents on a working class income.

"I also had to study and teach while blind, so I know the kinds of pressures on these kids", he says of students like Clem, one of 28 New Zealanders to receive Oppenheim Trust grants this year. "It's difficult for all students, but when you have a disability you have to work 10 times harder. It takes longer to get materials and then to access them, and it's even harder to gain employment unless you're outstanding. That's why we're keen to help those who have the motivation to do well. They need a break."

Clem's grant helps him with special costs such as transport and enlarging prescribed texts so that he can read them, while he uses a computer to allow him to sit written exams. Three years down the line he will graduate from the sought-after course with comprehensive credentials in the theory, practice and creative/conceptual elements of design. The qualification will open up to him his preferred career options in advertising, web, video and print media design.

"The lines are becoming blurred anyway as more and more designers set themselves up to be multitaskers", explains Clem, "but basically I want to be a 'creative'. Being a 'creative' will take you anywhere you want to go, if you have the motivation, passion, conviction, and talent."

It goes without saying that Clem has an artistic flair. It's something that may well run in the family. His uncle, Les Mason, happens to be a world-renowned graphic designer, while his aunt, Invercargill-born Gail Mason, is a noted abstract artist in Western Australia. Despite his youth and frequent medical traumas, Clem himself has already chalked up an exhibition of his own, showing his first collection of large abstract paintings at Andersen Park Art Gallery in April and May this year.

"Les and Gail were instrumental in encouraging me to pursue my interest in the design field," says Clem. "I was tempted to go to art school instead, but design seemed a more secure profession. I'm passionate about both now, and I haven't let my disabilities get in the way of what I want to do. If anything they probably reflect themselves in my style - and I like that."

If you would like to know more about contributing to the Oppenheim Tertiary Education Trust or creating a trust of your own, contact any member of the Funding Development team or contact the Treasurer, Frank Claridge on Ph: (09) 355 6875.

ENDS

MEDIA RELEASE FROM THE ROYAL NEW ZEALAND FOUNDATION FOR THE BLIND

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