Monday, April 27, 2009

Blind Australian hosts TV program, performs stunts

From The Australian:

Something you will eventually notice about Steve Hurd is that he's blind.

But the first thing will probably be that he's jumping out of a plane, swinging on a trapeze, racing a car, climbing a cliff, or otherwise grabbing life by the throat.

Hurd, 48, made his media debut a decade ago by parachuting into a sports oval in Wagga while conducting a live radio interview to promote Disability Awareness Week, earning him the nickname "Hurdini".

Since then he has done all of the above stunts and more on the national community TV show No Limits, described as a magazine-style program about "the real, the outrageous, the tragic and the downright hilarious sides of living with disability".

"I have always been the sort of person who likes to go out and do things," Hurd says, with characteristic understatement. However, he isn't without fear. His preparations for the trapeze included "having a couple of beers and making my will".

Other people have always tried to limit Hurd to his disability, but he never has, and he isn't about to start now.

As a child he lived in an institution for blind kids and was told his destiny was a job in a sheltered workshop. Instead, he became one of the first disabled pupils to attend a mainstream high school, got the third-highest HSC mark of his year and did law at Melbourne's Monash University.

However, his passion is the media. Hurd was thrilled when he was named "outstanding male presenter" at community TV's Antenna Awards last month for his work on No Limits.

It is the first time someone with a disability has taken the prize. The show, which is produced by Grit Media, received seven nominations and also won "outstanding interview program".

"I was surprised when I was nominated and completely shocked when I won," he says. "The award proves I can not only do it, but do it well."

Hurd's stunts have a serious purpose. They are his unique way of teaching that people should never be defined by what they can't do.

"If we want to get people with disabilities into mainstream programs it won't be done by me preaching about human rights," he says. "The way to integrate disability into the media is to make it interesting and exciting for the audience.

"You make your point by being humorous and entertaining, and people get the message. As the Bruce Springsteen song says, 'Hit it in the funny bone, that's where they expect it least'."

As well as stunts, Hurd does comedy spots that are in their own way equally brave. He has applied for a job as an astronaut and dressed up as a Rastafarian busker to sing a song called Come on Blind Man, Integrate.

Soon he plans to swim with sharks and his dream is to undertake astronaut training.

"That would be the ultimate," he says, "To be the first blind person in space."

But just as big a challenge, it seems, is his goal of getting a full-time job at a mainstream media outlet.

"I hope one day a mainstream network will use me as a co-presenter of a holiday or adventure show," he says. "Then me just being there will be a message in itself, without having to bang on about it on a soapbox."

In the meantime, he and another TV producer are preparing to pitch a program idea to the public, commercial and pay-TV networks called Strange Days, which would follow a day in the life of ordinary people with interesting lives, some of them with disabilities.

Although Hurd was born completely blind, an operation at the age of two give him some function in his right eye. But that sliver of sight is dwindling and will soon be gone.

Typically, though, instead of bemoaning the unfairness, he is making the most of what he has.

"While I have that tiny bit of sight, every night I go out and watch the sun set," he says. "That's what I try to bring out: That there is so much in life to appreciate. You should just go out there and do it."