Considering I do not drink beer, a brewery tour might sound like an unusual way for me to spend an evening. But that’s exactly what I did two weeks ago. Craig, a few friends and I toured the SAB Newlands Brewery… and what an experience it was!
I’m not going to dwell on how the beer is made, nor how the Newland’s plant keeps the process environmentally and cost effective – if you want to know that, you should visit the Brewery yourself. This is purely about my experience of touring the plant as a blind person.
On arrival, Craig and I were given a comprehensive briefing on what we could expect during the tour and what potential risks we might encounter. I know the safety officers had to give special permission for me to take my white cane on the tour with me – this was one occasion that leaving Fiji at home was definitely the right thing to do! We also had to sign a disclaimer protecting SAB against any injury sustained on the tour, but so did everyone else, so it wasn’t just because I am blind.
Generally I found the tour fairly easy to navigate. We climbed up and down staircases and walked from one area of the plant to the next as the guide explained the beer-making process. At no time did I feel unsafe or overly rushed and our tour group accommodated the presence of a blind woman without difficulty.
Then we entered the bottling area. Huge machines were busy washing, filling and stacking bottles and there was so much noise we had to don our headphones, both to protect our ears and to allow us to hear our guide’s explanation of the process.
Considering that 2.2 million units of beer are produced by Newlands Brewery every day, (bearing in mind they still bring in extra beer to meet Cape Town’s daily consumption), I guess the noise was to be expected – they could hardly shut off the line while we walked through. But let me explain the experience from my perspective:
There I was standing on an elevated walkway without sight, with the pounding of the machines making my hearing useless, and the design of the walkway making it impossible for me to feel my way with my white stick… I felt totally isolated, totally powerless and totally unable to move. I just stood there frozen on that walkway.
My blind friend, Chris, compares that feeling as being like having a bag thrown over your head, your hands tied and then being tossed into the back of a steel van and being powerless to protect yourself as you are thrown from one side of the van to the other. That might sound a little extreme, but having no ability to use any of your senses is petrifying.
Thankfully Craig helped me by placing my clutching hands onto secure handholds and helping me find my way, step by step, over the walkway and down the steps on the other side… but it was a close call. Mind you, staying where I was was hardly an option – I had to either go forward or back, didn’t I?
After the tour we sampled a few of the SAB beers produced by the Newlands Brewery and had a chance to chat to the other people on tour with us, which rounded the evening off well.
There is no way that anyone with mobility challenges could take the tour – the number of staircases and the elevated walkway would be insurmountable for someone in a wheelchair. However, the tour is not problematic for someone who is blind and, if all the guides are as knowledgeable as ours was, there will be sufficient detailed information to make sense of the process being described. Definitely an interesting experience, even for someone who does not drink beer… and yes, I still don’t drink beer!