“I’m one of those people who believe, ‘if you’re blind, so what? That doesn’t mean you can’t do it’,” Alex Whitton says.
Alex’s blindness is caused by the genetic disorder Norrie disease, with some estimates that less than 1000 cases have been described.
While Alex’s condition is incredibly rare, his achievement of a firearms licence in the ACT is an even greater rarity – he is the first blind Canberran to obtain the licence.
“Wherever there is a way, there is a how. That’s the one thing that I’ve always believed,” Alex says.
“[If] you really want to do it, [ask] ‘How are you going to do it?'”
This is the question Alex asked himself when, at 27, he decided he wanted to take up target shooting.
Alex had participated in Riding for the Disabled and played blind cricket in the past, but unlike these sports, target shooting required a licence.
Not shy of a challenge, Alex and his dad approached the ACT Smallbore Rifle Club to start the process of obtaining a firearms licence.
Alex did the safety training course with his dad, who obtained his licence first so Alex could train under his licence and later obtain his own.
“[The club] has gone pretty much above and beyond to make me feel welcome. They pretty much treat me like I’m one of them,” Alex says.
While other target shooters use traditional optical sights to aim and shoot at the cardboard target boards, Alex needed to find a different solution.
He was surprised to learn he was the first and only blind target shooter in Canberra, so to learn more he joined a NSW-based vision-impaired shooting group.
Alex was told about the visually impaired aiming shooting system (or VIASS Pro for short), which is also used by vision-impaired sportspeople in shooting competitions.
“It’s mounted on your rifle and it makes sort of like a warbling noise. That’s the best way to describe it,” Alex says.
“As you aim left or right or up and down, the warbling sound will get higher or lower.
“Once you get into the right spot where you want it, you pull the trigger.”
Alex’s father also acts as a ‘spotter’ of sorts while his son is target shooting, standing alongside him and assisting him when necessary to ensure the safety of the sessions.
On a good night, Alex says he can use the aiming system to hit about 20 shots over the course of about half an hour during his fortnightly visits to the shooting range.
It’s still “baby steps” for now, but Alex says he’s keeping the option of competing at a professional level in the future open as he continues to hone his skills.
While he’s not down at the shooting range with his dad, Alex is also a morning presenter at Canberra community radio station 2XX FM.