Case Study – Adriene Howley

No eyes? No problem for Australia's top Buddhist monk

Adrienne Howley has crammed a lot of action into her 82 years. She's travelled the world, become a published author and been ordained by the Dalai Lama. But the toughest challenge she's faced was losing her sight.

A diving accident she experienced as a teenager resulted in a detached retina – a problem which later contributed to her vision loss. Adrienne's sight began to deteriorate 12 years ago but her vision problems began long before that.

"When I was in my fifties I was in France in a supermarket and I suddenly felt as if the skin had been ripped off my brain. It was my retina giving way, but I didn't take notice of it. Looking back, I had carried a time bomb in my head and didn't realise it," she says.

"Years later, I found I had to go outside to read the paper. Next, a little black dot started to jump about before my eyes. Then there was a letter missing when I tried to read, then a word had gone," she recalls. "I went to the optometrist and a specialist and they said they couldn't do anything for me. I thought 'It's about time I admitted I was vision impaired'.

"When I realised I needed help, I went to Vision 2020 Australia member Vision Australia. It's opened up a new life for me. The hardest thing is to ask for help. But once you get over the first hurdle the world opens."

Adrienne uses Vision Australia's low vision and library services and visits the local centre every couple of months to learn about new adaptive technologies that can make living at home easier for her.

Despite her vision problems, Adrienne has lived an amazing life.

Eleven years after she was ordained by the Dalai Lama in Italy back in 1982, Adrienne took the highest ordination vows possible from a Vietnamese Buddhist master. She is now the most senior Buddhist monk in Australia and is officially known as the Venerable Adrienne Howley.

Her books on the subject are sold worldwide. Adrienne also wrote My Heart, My Country about the life of poet Dorothea Mackellar, who she nursed for many years.

Adrienne is currently working on her autobiography, which follows a booklet on vision loss – Now You See It, Now You Don't.

"Everyone's story about how they lost their sight is different, so I put in my experience plus that of others. I kept it as light as possible to show that life goes on," she says.

More information about Vision Australia services can be found at (external link)