The Blind Tourist

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Trying Adaptive Golf

The image shows a woman with shoulder-length dark hair holding an oversized golf club and preparing to hit a furry tennis ball off a mat
 
I’ve never been a particularly sporty person. Even from the time I was very young I was usually the one with my head buried in a book while my friends were running around, or hitting a tennis ball against a wall to practise their shots. Nonetheless, since losing my sight I have tried a few activities and sports – 10-pin bowling, tandem cycling, pool, mini-golf and scuba diving, which I wrote about last year.
 
So it wasn’t really a huge surprise when I signed up for an adaptive golf day being run by the Raising Hope South Africa team. Their advert said they could accommodate people with a range of disabilities and would adapt to each person’s particular needs.
 
I was by no means the only person at the open day with a visual condition. Even more fun, I already knew two of the other participants, both of whom are partially sighted, and there was much laughter at our first attempts to aim the balls at our allocated  targets. Well, at least at my first attempts to aim the balls at my allocated target, which was definitely a bit hit and miss. More miss than hit, if I’m honest.   
 
My first challenge was to learn how to find where the ball was located. Even with sighted assistance helping me to position myself correctly, I still had to take the swing and try to hit the ball on my own. After showing a decided talent for hitting the ground near the ball I eventually learned to lift the head of the golf club a few centimetres off the ground before taking my swing, and that improved my chances of actually hitting the ball.
 
I also discovered that my skills with a putter far exceeded my abilities with a driver. I don’t know whether the shape of the driver affected the balance of the club which left me striking the ball in the most unpredictable directions.  Certainly I hit the targets a whole lot more often when I was putting
 
There are a couple of videos of me taking shots on my Facebook, but please bear in mind that these were taken once I had started figuring golf out a little. So they probably make me look more in control than I felt.
 
Honestly, I’m not about to give up my day job and spend all my time improving my golf game. But I certainly had a lot of fun exploring adaptive golf and would recommend it to any of my friends with disabilities when Raising Hope SA has their next open day.
 
Thank you to Mary and Ashlyn of Raising Hope South Africa and Shane of Hazendal Golf Course for giving me the opportunity to try adaptive golf.
 
To find out more, you can contact [email protected]
 
Hmm, I wonder what my next adaptive adventure will be?

Seeing with Your Ears – Echo Location with Brian Bushway

Brian in  Iceland holding a huge block of ice
I’m sure I’m not the only one who grabs for her phone whenever I hear a notification. Or who hunts around to find it when the phone alerts me that I have an incoming call. Or dash into the kitchen to check on supper when I hear the oven buzzer. In all of these cases we are making use of our hearing to gain useful information.

I rely on sound to help me navigate the world because I can’t use my eyes to tell me what is happening around me. It’s the only way I know what’s beyond the range of my hands or white cane. When I’m travelling around with my guide dog I use sound to help me orientate myself. I know the houses where dogs usually bark at us. I listen to the direction of traffic, to the sound of trains passing – anything that can help me pinpoint my location.

Have you ever consciously paid attention to the information you’re gathering with your hearing?

How often are you aware of the sound of the traffic that surrounds you? Have you ever realized it sounds different when you drive into a tunnel? Have you ever wondered whether your reactions are informed by sounds like these, even if you’re not consciously aware of them?

I’ve been thinking about the ways I use sound as a blind person. And how much being more aware of sound could add to a sighted person’s perceptions if they could tap into it more often. And that’s what I spoke to Brian Bushway, of Acoustic Athletics about in my latest podcast.

Brian, who is himself blind, travels the world training people, both with and without sight, about ways that using input from the sounds around them can add to their lives. It’s a skill called echo location.

Brian and I discussed what echo location is, how it can be used, and the neuroscience of how the brain interprets both sight and sound. I found it a fascinating conversation.

We even chatted about how Brian uses echo location to ride a mountain bike independently, rather than with a sighted pilot on a tandem as most blind and partially sighted mountain-bikers do.

If you’d like to learn a little more about ways you could be using sound to add a different dimension to your world, give my conversation with Brian a listen at http://iono.fm/e/1160293

Or search for A Different Way of Seeing on your usual podcast player to listen to the conversation. Oh, and while you’re there, why not follow the podcast. That way you’ll have our episodes drop into your feed automatically.

My Accessible Travel Podcast Takes to the Air

The image shows an  adaptive paraglider

A few weeks ago I told you I’d reached out to the team who organised the first South African adaptive paraglide. I asked them if they would be willing
to come onto my A Different Way of Traveling podcast to chat about adaptive paragliding.

Matthew van Zyl, the owner of Square1 Paragliding, was happy to chat to me and I got to find out all about this exciting and inclusive sport. I also got to chat to Tarryn Tomlinson from Able2Travel, who was one of the first to try out the new fly chair.

I’m the first to admit that I’m not the world’s most adventurous person. In fact, I’m far more likely to be found with my head buried in a book -audio, of course – or listening to some of my favourite rock songs. Yet it was fascinating to learn more about how paragliding has been made more accessible for those who are wanting to give it a try. And I was excited to learn how inclusive Matthew believes it to be.

Certainly, from what he told me in the interview, the fly chair would be able to accommodate a broad range of disabilities. Matthew also explained how the fly chair operates and explained how easy it is for him, as the pilot, to communicate with the person in the fly chair. And he was able to answer my questions about takeoff and landing. All of which reassured less-than-adventurous me!

Tarryn reinforced what Matthew told me and it was wonderful to hear about the experience from her perspective as a wheelchair user.

So, if you’re interested to learn more about adaptive paragliding, you’ll find the podcast at http://iono.fm/e/1129768

And who knows, maybe you’ll see me leaping off the side of the mountain and soaring into the air in the adaptive paraglider sometime … After all, I did try scuba diving!

Podcasts on A Few Accessible Activities

The image  shows Lois sitting at a computer and speaking into a microphone

A few days ago I found myself wondering how many podcast interviews I had done relating to adaptive sports and activities. When I looked back through the podcast feed I was excited to see how many there were. Today I’m going to share a few past episodes with you in the hope they might inspire you to discover how various activities can be adaptive to become more inclusive for persons with special needs.

Our first foray into accessible activities was in episode 5 (December 2018), when I spoke to Angelique le Roux of Ceres Zip slide Adventures. I found it fascinating to hear how they make ziplining available to persons with a wide range of different disabilities. And, even with my atrocious head for heights, I found myself wondering what the experience might be like. Find out for yourself by listening to the interview at http://iono.fm/e/638621

On episode 14 I interviewed Roxy Davis of Surf Emporium about the adaptive surfing clinics she runs. That was all the way back in June 2019. You can listen to the episode at http://iono.fm/e/696018

In other episodes I’ve spoken to people about accessible safaris (Episode 32 – http://iono.fm/e/828914) and ocean cruising, (Episode 34 – http://iono.fm/e/845329
)

Then, in my most recent episode I chatted to a team who run an adaptive scuba diving organisation. Again, I was excited to hear how they are able to accommodate people across a wide spectrum of abilities. So much so that I am hoping to give it a go myself in the next few weeks. You’ll find that interview at http://iono.fm/e/1110127

I have always maintained that I constantly learn things from the podcast interviews I do and certainly my eyes have been opened to so many different opportunities and activities that are available to those of us living with a disability. And I think that is wonderful.

Want to know what my next interview on an activity will be about? Well, I know that the first South African adaptive paraglide took place in Cape Town recently. And I’ve already reached out to the people concerned to see if they’re interested in being interviewed. So maybe that will be next!

Podcast on Long-Distance Air Travel with a Guide Dog.

The image shows a man sitting on a park bench with a yellow Labrador beside him.

Hosting a podcast on accessible travel, I often have the opportunity to chat with interesting people about a wide range of topics. My last few podcasts have been no exception.

I recently interviewed Michael Hingson on the topic of long-distance air travel with a guide dog. Michael has had extensive experience on the topic, having travelled not only for work but also following his experience escaping from the World Trade Centre during the attack on 9 September 2001.

Together Michael and his guide dog Roselle walked down 78 floors of the World Trade Centre and navigated their way to safety. Michael tells the story of that day in his book “Thunder Dog: The True Story of a Blind Man, His Guide Dog, and the Triumph of Trust at Ground Zero”

Michael and his guide dogs have subsequently travelled around the world sharing their story. So he was the perfect person to interview on the subject of air travel with a guide dog.

You can hear some of Michael’s experiences in the podcast – http://iono.fm/e/1103477

While you’re there, why not listen to a few more exciting travel stories. And subscribe to the podcast so you won’t miss an episode. With 53 published episodes so far, there is plenty to enjoy!

Two Phenomenal Women I Interviewed in August

Accessible South Africa Logo  Full

With August being Women’s Month in South Africa, I decided to interview two women on my accessible travel podcast, A different Way of Travelling.

For those of you who don’t know about the podcast – where have you been? We now have 52 episodes featuring interviews with travellers with disabilities, or showcasing fun inclusive travel activities. Even if you don’t have a disability, or know anyone with a disability, I guarantee you will be fascinated by the adventures that my guests have undertaken.

Back to the point – my guests for August…

My first episode in August featured Praveena Sukhraj-Ely sharing wonderful stories of her travels and her insights into the realities of travelling as a woman who is blind. Like Praveena, I enjoy having someone with me to share the breathtaking and diverse experiences of travelling. I also found the challenges she mentioned very relatable.

To listen to Praveena’s interview, hop onto http://iono.fm/e/1080899

My second guest in August was Neha Arora, owner of Planet Abled, a travel agency focusing on inclusive travel experiences in India and the East. We spoke about her company and discussed her thoughts on the accessibility of tourist sites in India. During the episode I asked Neha what types of activities she would recommend for me if I were to contact Planet Abled. She outlined such amazing options that I found myself feeling excited about the possibility of travel for the first time since the start of the pandemic. Even though I’m not yet ready to consider travelling, it’s nice to be excited at the thought of doing so. That episode will be out any day now.

You can listen to Praveena and Neha’s interviews by searching for A Different Way of Travelling on your usual podcast player, or on our podcast feed at https://iono.fm/rss/chan/3715

While you’re there, why not take a quick tour through some of our other episodes to hear from previous guests…

Seeing a Slice of Southern Africa My Way, by Tony Giles

Book Cover

I’ve recently discovered a love of reading travel memoirs. While it in no way replaces the experience of exploring different countries and cultures, it does at least give me a taste of the travel I used to be able to do, and will hopefully be able to return to in time to come.
A travel memoir I read recently was Seeing a Slice of Southern Africa My Way, by Tony Giles – aka Tony the Traveller. It is the story of a trip Tony took to several countries in Southern Africa in 2004 and 2005. During that time he visited South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi.
As a blind and hearing impaired traveller, Tony describes his travels through his other senses, much as I do when I travel. Having said that, Tony is far more adventurous than I am and is always ready to bungee jump, go white river rafting or seek out other adventure activities, which he also describes with his customary sense of humour

There were a couple of things I found fascinating about reading about Tony’s time in Southern Africa. First, unlike me, Tony is happy to head out and explore the world totally on his own, trusting he will be able to find assistance should he need it. And, from what I read in his book, mostly he manages to do so.
Secondly, I found it fascinating seeing cities and countries that I’ve visited through the eyes of a stranger, and a tourist. I often find that tourists see a different side to a city than we do as residents. I found this especially true while reading Tony’s book. I felt a similar thing when my brother and sister-in-law visited Cape Town a few years ago and Craig and I got to see Cape Town through their eyes.

So, if you’re interested in discovering how a blind and hearing impaired man travels through several Southern African countries on his own, and experience the wonderous world of travel through senses other than sight, or if you simply want to get a taste of travel while we are still not really free to explore new destinations due to the global pandemic, I’d highly recommend reading Seeing a Slice of Southern Africa My Way by Tony Giles. And, if you enjoy it, you can try the other two books in the series so far: Seeing the World My Way and Seeing the Americas My way. I know I’ll be reading them in the near future when I have the urge to travel again, at least by book.

My Thoughts on Why You Might Want to Listen to My Accessible Travel Podcast

Alt text: The image shows a styalised image of the African continent that resembles a bare foot

I’ve been hosting a podcast on accessible travel for 2 ½ years and have recently been thinking about why someone with no connection to disability might gain value from listening to it.
I believe one of the biggest barriers to the inclusion of persons with disabilities into society and the workplace is a lack of understanding of how we (persons with disabilities) live our lives. Because people don’t understand how we do things, they usually default to imagining that those tasks are not possible for us.

I understand why that barrier exists. On a fundamental level, why should someone with no link to disability know how we operate? It’s rather like expecting everyone in the world to know how a nuclear power station operates, how an orthopedic surgeon does their work, or knowing the intricacies of a retail store stock management system. For the most part we do not need to know and, unless nuclear power stations, retail store stock management or orthopedic surgery impacts directly on our lives, we simply accept that it does what it needs to do. Without needing us to know anything more than that.
Sadly, since many people have no direct contact with a person with a disability, the same appears to hold true. Except that statistics tell us that around 15% of the world’s population lives with some form of disability. Which means that for every eight people we encounter, one will have a disability, whether visible or not.

In the past few years we have seen a growing awareness of the need to understand the realities of those whose experiences have been different from our own, to be more open to diversity of race, culture, gender, age. Yet somehow the question of ability seldom gets mentioned when the question of diversity is raised. I believe it should be part of that conversation as well.

Which brings us back to why someone with no contact with disability might gain value from listening to my podcast about accessible travel.

  • To learn a little about the barriers the world sets up for persons with disabilities,
  • To learn about the tools and techniques we have at our disposal that allow us to overcome the obstacles we face,
  • To see the strength, resilience, skills and talents that help us achieve what we are passionate about,
  • To understand that we are just the same as persons without disabilities in terms of what we love to do,
  • how we want to live our lives, and experience the world – it is just the way we may do it that may differ

I love having the opportunity of chatting to people about their travel experiences. I learn new things in every single episode. However, I believe the greatest take-away I have gained while interviewing people is the knowledge that, though we may do things in a different way, our experiences and our love for travel are exactly the same.

If you are someone who loves to travel to new places and experience different things, you may discover that the guests on my podcast have much in common with you as well.
Why not dip into the library of episodes of A Different Way of Travelling and see if I’m correct… You can find them at https://iono.fm/rss/chan/3715

Or on your usual podcast player.

Go on, give it a try!

A True Spirit of Adventure

Normie Eckard on his handcycle on a road with a Namibian flag

Every time I interview someone for my accessible travel podcast, A Different Way of Travelling, I learn new ways in which people with disabilities engage with the travel and hospitality industries. This was especially true for the most recent episode we published.

Normie Eckard has been a wheelchair user since a motor accident when he was 18 years old. But that hasn’t stopped him from participating in a number of adventures that he uses to fundraise to assist children with disabilities. In the podcast we broke down a few of the adventures he’s done and explored how these were adapted to accommodate his own disability.

If you’re interested to know how Normie was able to skydive, paraglide, go scuba diving and shark cage diving, and ride a quadbike, amongst other things, and about his adventure cycling from Luderitz to Cape Agulhas on a handcycle, you can find out by listening to the episode at the following link:

http://iono.fm/e/1020502

While you’re there, it would be great if you could subscribe to the podcast to join me as I continue to learn from each new guest I have the honour to interview.

What I’d Like You to Know about My Blindness 04: I Don’t Have Super-Abilities

The image shows Lois using her sense of touch to explore the Athens Museum

You wouldn’t believe how often people ask me if my blindness has given me extra sensory abilities – whether I can hear, scent, and taste better than a sighted person, and have a more sensitive sense of touch.

My honest answer? I don’t think so.

I don’t believe my other senses have improved since losing my sight. But I do believe that I pay them more attention than I did when I was able to rely on my sight. Which means they may appear to be better than they were.

When I was sighted I relied most on my sense of sight to give me input. I believe most sighted people do the same thing. Since losing my sight, I have used the input I gain from my other senses to fill in the gap caused by my visual impairment. My ability to interpret the world around me is dependent on what I can feel, hear, and smell. So I pay far more attention to the input I gain from my other senses than I used to.

When I’m walking to our local train station I use my other senses to help me identify where on my route I am – whether it be the scent of a particular plant, or the sound of a specific dog who always barks at Fiji and myself as we pass. Whether it’s a patch of gravel that helps me realize I am approaching the station itself, or a dip in the road that identifies the spot where we need to turn and cross the road we’ve been travelling for the past 10 minutes. My other senses compensate for my lack of sight and help me navigate the world.

My lack of sight means I experience travel very differently. Of course I miss out on the sightseeing that a sighted tourist would be able to do. But I regularly pick up things that a sighted person, who relies primarily on their sense of sight, might miss. For me, travel is a multi-sensory experience that incorporates every sense I have at my disposal. Which gives me a vastly different, but no less rich, experience of a destination.

When was the last time you focused on the input you could gain from your other senses? Why not take a moment to notice what you hear? Smell? Touch? And see what an extra dimension your world gains. Now, imagine doing the same when you are next in a new city or country.

There is so much that I wasn’t aware of because I was able to use my eyes to interpret the world around me. I’m not saying that my other senses completely fill in what I used to be able to see, but they certainly give me an alternate way to explore the world.

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