From radio to TV to books, Elaine Harris refuses to be typecast for her lack of sight

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It was luck more than anything else that landed Elaine Harris her first job in broadcasting in 1979, she says.

But it’s her hard work and dedication to the art of storytelling that has led her to work in radio, television and writing for decades.

“I’ve always loved words, I’ve always been a bit of a performer, but I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with them or even if there was a career that combined the two,” she says.

“All I can say is that when I walked into my first radio station, I felt like I was coming home. I still do. I feel the same about myself. sitting down to work at my desk.”

Two life-changing phone calls on the same day

Elaine and her guide dog Kati at Radio Hallam in the UK, where Elaine got her first full-time media contract.(Provided: Elaine Harris)

Elaine vividly remembers the day she got her first full-time contract with a radio station, as it was just one of two life-changing calls she received that day.

“That night the phone rang…he was the head trainer of the nearest guide dog training center in Britain…and he said, ‘We think we have the right dog for you,'” she said.

The next day, Elaine went to the radio station to sign her new contract, then hopped on a train to meet her first guide dog, Kati, to see if they could work together.

“It was love at first sight. It was just wonderful,” Elaine said, the joy of the memory clear in her voice.

“Kati and I started working full time the same day.”

With Kati by her side and a reel-to-reel tape recorder under her arm, Elaine traveled all over the UK in search of stories and interview accomplishments while grabbing every radio and storytelling opportunity she could. to find.

“I was hungry. I wanted to work, I wanted more work,” says Elaine.

A group of people are gathered around a red steam train with a Union Jack on it.  Elaine is up front with her guide dog.
Kati and Elaine at the 1981 Mayor of Sheffield Parade with Radio Hallam, where Elaine worked as a Sunday program presenter and traveling reporter.(Provided: Elaine Harris)

In the early 1980s, Elaine and Kati took an even bigger trip when they boarded a plane to come to Australia, where Elaine’s husband Chris was already living.

Elaine wasted no time getting more broadcast work.

“I landed TV interviews with Channel Sevens weekend magazine,” she says.

Broadcaster to bureaucrat and back

Elaine’s first job with the ABC was as a producer with ABC Canberra.

“I made it very clear that yes, it was a producer’s job, but I thought of myself as a broadcaster, and within a week I was recording interviews for the programs I worked for,” she says.

In the 80s and 90s, there were no computers with screen-reading software for Elaine, or anyone in the ABC, to use. All of her work was done using a typewriter and Braille, which she used to produce all the notes she would need when broadcasting a program.

“I had the music in my right hand, the program notes directly in front of me, and to my left were the community announcements and talking points so I could jump between them without any drama,” she says.

Elaine is standing with one arm on a radio control panel, one arm on her black guide dog.
When Elaine took on the role of afternoon show presenter with ABC Radio Tasmania, she had no producer.(Provided: Elaine Harris)

It wasn’t until the turn of the millennium that Elaine got her first ABC work computer, when she was asked to work on ABC’s Disability Action Plan.

“I was neither a talented nor a natural bureaucrat and the job was in human resources,” she says.

“I learned how to navigate the hierarchy the hard way, hitting a few guardrails along the way.”

Elaine says she found the use of bureaucratic language challenging and was often “baffled” by the confusing handling of the ABC.

She also feared that being a disabled employee working on the disability scheme would work against her.

“I worked so hard not to be pigeonholed,” she says.

“Suddenly I was there, someone with a guide dog talking about the Disability Action Plan and ABC policies and I thought ‘oh my God, I’m typecast again’.

“The hardest thing for me has been talking about quotas and percentages and employing people with disabilities. I don’t believe in quotas, unfortunately I think there can be a need sometimes, but it can lead to symbolism.”

Although being a bureaucrat wasn’t Elaine’s favorite job, she enjoyed some of the work she had to do in those days.

“My two main tasks were to put together a set of guidelines for broadcasters. The bulk of my role was to collect and flesh out mini-biographies of people with disabilities who were successful in their own fields, shattering myths, stereotypes and generalizations along the way,” she says.

“I also assembled the panel to record a ‘hypothesis’ on disability and employment, before providing Geoffrey Robertson with extensive research notes.

“He kissed me afterwards to say thank you.”

Touching people’s lives

Elaine sits across from Miriam with a microphone in her hand.  Miriam has a hand on the black guide dog while watching Elaine
One of the many highlights of Elaine’s career was when she interviewed actress Miriam Margolyes about reading and books. (Provided: Elaine Harris)

Robertson isn’t the only celeb to give Elaine a hug. She also hugged Audrey Hepburn before recording what she says is one of her best interviews.

But it’s not a celebrity reunion that Elaine first mentions when asked about her fond memories as a broadcaster.

“The most emotional thing was meeting a lady in Canberra when we returned about six months after moving to Tasmania,” says Elaine.

“She came to thank me after I had addressed a Rotary club, and I paraphrase here:

“It still makes me cry.”

And that’s the real magic of being a broadcaster and a storyteller for Elaine. How you connect with the audience.

“Above all, remember who you’re there for,” she says when asked for advice for new broadcasters.

“If it weren’t for the public, made up of diverse individuals, you wouldn’t have a job!”

After the publication of the Disability Action Plan, Elaine returned to Tasmania where she was the presenter of the afternoon program until she left the ABC in 2013.

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