BLIND vision

‘Made with little vision’ is proudly on display as the slogan on the side of the Blind Coffee Van, and its vision-impaired barista Dion Cole says his sense of humour is part of who he is.

Dion originally got the idea for Blind Beans Coffee because, as he says, “I had too many bad coffees. They say Melbourne is the coffee capital of Australia; I got sick of too many coffee-flavoured milks.” Dion now calls the Peninsula home. “There’s a real community about it,” he says.

Dion did a barista course a few years ago and then, a year ago, he did a second one as a refresher, then bought the coffee van with his own funds. He tallied up the costs – coffee, plus petrol for the generator, plus milk – then thought, ‘The best way is to go headfirst straight into a coffee gig.’

The coffee van is standard, but Dion has equipment that helps, such as talking scales when doing the weight in grams for each coffee. He has created a routine with his support workers and tries to get everything put back the way it was at the start of the shift so that things flow a lot easier. Good lighting and small aids like the talking scales help. “I have lovely support workers standing beside me who tell me, ‘OK, two centimetres, one centimetre, nearly there.’ My support workers are the backbone because, without them, I can’t do business.”

When he started, Dion didn’t expect it to be easy and knew there would be a few challenges. “I’m a bit of an introvert,” he said, “so trying to get the work was difficult for me; to face these challenges that I would normally avoid. My initial support worker was a real go-getter. She would run into places and say, ‘I’m going to go in here and see if we can get you some work.’ The local tennis club said they’d have me, and then it slowly became word of mouth as well, thanks to social media, which has coffee van pages. You’ve got to be persistent and check regularly, then jump on board quickly with your request to take that job.”

Photos: Gary Sissons

Now Dion is doing very nicely. “People comment on my coffee, usually positive. I’ve only ever had two negatives. One because it was taking too long so now, thanks to my support worker Carly Dillon, we’ve printed off the Blind Beans story. This is a big laminated card which we sit on the table so, while customers are waiting, they can understand why they might have to wait a little longer.”

Dion uses a medium-strength bean to make his coffee and takes his coffee van to the footie and to markets. His sense of humour is even on the van door; it says, ‘Don’t worry, I’m the passenger.’ Dion is driven by his support worker, Carly. The footie is Dion’s favourite, “Because it’s go, go, go – I love that rush – it fuels me and inspires me.

Dion started primary school wearing glasses. Then, in 1995, he went back to his home country of New Zealand for his mother’s wedding, where people noticed him bumping and tripping into chairs and tables. Dion’s father insisted he have his eyes tested, and Dion was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP).

Eleven years ago, Dion’s sister was hospitalised with the same eye condition and discovered she had an extremely rare metabolic condition, analpha-methyl acyl-CoA racemase deficiency, or AMACR.

Dion was tested and discovered he had the same condition, a side-effect of which is RP. He and his sister were the first two people in Australasia to be diagnosed with AMACR, a degenerative condition. Dion has come to terms with and adapted to his blindness.

What motivates him to work? “Making people happy and putting a smile on their faces, and I know that having a coffee first thing in the morning is bliss. I can’t function well and come eleven o’clock I’ll have a throbbing headache because I need my coffee. It’s not because we’re addicted or anything,” he laughs. “Not at all.”

When he’s out, Dion will buy an extra strong skinny latte. “That way, I’m covering the bases of a milky coffee. That’s my favourite. I’ve learned to make the Piccolo, a short black, a long black, and I had one person ask for a Melbourne Magic – a long black with just a splash of milk on top. It sounds like a Macchiato, but there is a difference. What it is, who knows? Let the mystery stay out there.”

How did Dion overcome his introversion and be able to deal with the public? He says, “I’ve always wanted to deal with people, but one of my biggest fears is public speaking; I can’t do it. But talking one-on-one with customers or if there are just three or four, I don’t mind.”

The coffee van business has become very competitive, but Dion laughs. “There are a lot of coffee van owners out there, but they’re not all blind.”

Dion is always on the lookout for more gigs. If you’d like Blind Coffee to be at your event, or if you’d like to sponsor Dion and have your logo on his van, you can contact him via Instagram.

 Insta @blind_beans_melbourne

Peninsula Essence – November 2023