Zach Coley is blind in one eye and has half vision in the other, but his disability does not hold him back. He's achieved 100 per cent grades in his first and second year studying for a computer degree at Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology in Tauranga.
The 19-year-old has always been interested in technology.
Zach left Katikati College two years ago and was so keen to attend Toi Ohomai he enrolled in four papers. His mum Sandy Coley suggested he settle in first and do two papers to start with, which he did in the first semester and aced them with 100 per cent. He achieved his level 5 diploma in Web Development and Design in July and will finish his level 6 diploma in Software Development in July 2022.
The youngest son of Sandy and Mark Coley of Katikati, Zach was born at just 25 weeks weighing 600g. He was put into an incubator and on a ventilator, and received too much oxygen, which caused retinopathy of prematurity (his retinas detached from the back of his eyes).
Zach had laser surgery at 40 weeks to reattach the retinas but his sight deteriorated. In 2016 his right eye retina detached again and after an unsuccessful operation, he lost sight in that eye.
His left eye has only 6/24 vision. This means Zach sees an object at 6m compared to a person with 100 per cent vision, which is 6/6, and sees the same object at 60m.
Zach travels to Toi Ohomai by taxi or bus. With Covid-19 he is compromised by his lungs so continues his study from home. Sandy says lockdown has worked for him and has enhanced his study.
Zach works on a 17" laptop that he saved for, with a little help from his grandpa, which he takes to class. To help eye fatigue he applied to Workbridge NZ to help fund two 32" monitors, which he runs his laptop through at home. He also bought a wireless keyboard and has set up a home study space.
He has high praise for his tutor Shelly McGowan. Sandy says Shelly has been brilliant and helped him with continuous support to achieve.
The support was mutual as Zach wrote a letter of recommendation about Shelly's abilities when working with someone with a severe disability.
Shelly is now a senior lecturer at Toi Ohomai.
Sandy says: "Zach is an A+ student and after achieving 100 per cent in his first two papers, he wanted to complete four papers each semester. He then achieved 100 per cent in his next eight papers - two are level 6."
One level 6 paper is database and project management where he has to produce a project. He bought The Ray Tracer Challenge, a guidebook to 3-D rendering to help with learning the science of 3-D graphics for the project.
"Many people do degrees in software and get paid good money but I can't see myself sitting for eight hours just writing code. Designing and tweaking websites one pixel at a time is tedious work. I'm really into programming for robotics — for me, it offers more," Zach says.
Zach is a member of Kāpo Māori Aotearoa, an organisation providing support and advice for blind and vision-impaired Māori.
His group is called Nga Rõpu o Manaaki Tangata Kotahitanga (MTK), 20 young people who advocate for those disadvantaged by being Māori and visually impaired. It deals with racism and discrimination and gives Māori a voice.
"For me, I'm not recognised as Māori, but I have Māori whakapapa. I'm into advocating to make a difference."
Zach often meets Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni in Auckland with other MTK members to discuss issues regarding people who are blind or have low vision. Zach believes more awareness and education are required to empower the Māori blind and low-vision community.
"We're talking for people who are unable to speak for themselves. People who feel judged and are unaware of their rights."
Zach's next challenge is to complete a level 7 bachelor's degree in Applied Technology.
• The NZ Blind Low Vision street appeal is on October 22-23. Because of current alert levels, New Zealanders can make a donation at blindlowvision.org.nz/BLVweek