"That blind woman" etching out an ambitious million name braille project

Julie Woods aka 'that blind woman' of Dunedin at work on her braille typewriter.
Mary-Jo Tohill/Stuff

Julie Woods aka 'that blind woman' of Dunedin at work on her braille typewriter.

Julie Woods deftly slides a business card into her raspberry-pink typewriter and types a name.

On Tuesday, it was the 450th name the Dunedin woman had gathered since starting a special project in March, to mark her 20th anniversary of being blind.

Known as "that blind woman", the popular inspirational speaker came up with the "one in a million" project, to collect the names of a million people.

She spoke about her challenge on Tuesday, to residents of Balclutha's Holmdene Home for the aged, many of whom have sight issues.

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Her project was inspired by Paekakariki artist and mental health nurse Francis Salole's quest to paint one million paintings to raise mental health awareness.

"I thought back to the time I had given a guide in India my card with their name written on it in braille," Woods said.

"They said: 'Words cannot describe how I'm feeling at this moment'."

"It was a big response to something that was just ordinary to me."

She wanted to do something positive and meaningful to encapsulate her life's journey, and what better way to say it than in braille, with the names of the people she meets.

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"It can also be the name of dog, or a cat. I've written the name of a three-day old baby. People are very connected to their names, so it has powerful meaning."

Woods has set herself the task of keeping track of the names on a spreadsheet.

She's not sure what sort of medium the project will end up in - print or art. She is married to artist Ron Esplin. 

"I'm open to suggestion," she laughed.

She figures for the rest of her life she will need to be recording the names of about 1000 people per week to meet her target.

"If it takes me to the end of my days that will be fine. If if takes me to the day before I die, that's fine too."

The idea is starting to grow momentum, and has definitely given her another focus in an already busy life.

"It would be great to employ other braille people [to help on the project], to give them meaningful work."

Why not, has become the mother of two's catch phrase.

It's served her well in cooking (without looking) and sport. She's proudly taken part in the annual Papatowai Challenge in the Catlins many times. 

"Since I went blind [from Stargardt disease], I've always tried to focus on what I can do, and not what I can't."



 - Stuff

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