TRAVELLING OUTSIDE COMFORT ZONES: 2 Fingers Up to the Conventional and Systems

TRAVELLING OUTSIDE COMFORT ZONES: 2 Fingers Up to The Predictable And Systems

By Dawn M. Sanders


Last autumn I met a rare kindred spirit in a place I would never have expected to.

I was at the Royal National College for the Blind to try an sharpen up some specialist IT skills I would need as a journalist who uses a screen reader, but nothing came to fruition.

In my wealth of life experience, when I have met or been around other people with a visual impairment (and this is a generalisation) due to lack of good vision, VIP’s tend to play things safe, stay within comfort zones or are just by in large conservative in many respects.
When I have met someone more flamboyant or daring who happens to be visually impaired, well they tend to stand out, especially if they happen to be adventurous, such as climbing Mount Everest or going sailing solo, in exceptionally high-profile cases that is, suffice to say they’re almost certainly held up as over-achievers or particularly ‘brave’.

For myself I never have seen immigrating on my own to the UK at twenty-four, especially brave, maybe a little stupid with hindsight, as I made little or know plans, just did it.

So, when I met Harmony Neil at the college and she told me how she went travelling on her own – not really knowing where she was going, bus routes etc. I was quietly pleased to have met her.
She also often lives of no fixed abode, not because of any misfortune or getting out of a bad situation, just because, and tends to float between visiting friends and family – I knew we would get on and we just started to, but then I left the college, yet her and I have kept in regular contact, which is great.
So right now she is travelling from visiting Finland for the second time and I wanted to do her blog more justice than the usual sharing on social media, so you can read her blog here as I don’t yet have a blogging newsletter to sign post.

Thing is, she doesn’t make a big deal of the fact she’s completely blind, in fact she doesn’t mention it at all apart from mentioning the way people some times grab at someone with a white cane.
So why not thrust it forward in the way others might expect? ‘So what’ as I can say on good allegiance, it’s really not a big deal.
Of course we all have to, as visually impaired people, get help with crossing unfamiliar roads, buses or taxis in maybe a foreign country, but it’s getting out and ‘doing it’ that usually brings about the all-prevailing awe factor.

I myself have lived off-grid in an eco-village and went travelling on my own as a single mum with a severe visual impairment – with my child in tow who has what would now be described as complex additional needs.
At the time in the late 90s, I was escaping professional types who were banging on about, ‘why can’t he do this yet or that yet’ as he was going on 2 and not quite walking or talking.
It was a time when I wasn’t writing or doing much apart from being a mum and navigating the often intimidating ‘system’ of special needs surrounding my son and quickly getting board and sick of it all, but will save that story for another time.

The over-riding theme here, is yes, it really is possible to live more adventurously, less conventionally and on one’s own terms without good vision – it’s often what I dub having ‘inner vision’ or heightened intuition.
There is this in-grained notion that, just because someone has an additional need of any kind, they must either wrap themselves in cotton wool or be wrapped up by others who make presumptions or assumptions without a second thought.
For example, I was in a meeting the other day and someone asked me what I enjoyed doing. When I replied that I love going walking, someone else chimed in that, he knew of a walking group for people with various types of ‘dis-abilities, as he described – some in wheelchairs and some not.
I immediately said to the affect of, ‘why should I need to be in a segregated group’?
I don’t need level ground; I climb stiles and in fact prefer the challenge of rugged terrain. All due respect to those in wheelchairs, but I’m not…
He caught my irritation and said he knew of someone with my own outlook and flair for adventure.
I have written passionately of this in my blog Discrimination to Walk.

I remember a conversation Harmony and I had while at the college. She spoke of going to a favourite spot in the middle of nowhere and just getting off the train, finding her way with her cane and exploring the ground with her feet.
So I only partially agree with Ashley Nemeth, who says: “Before hiking can be possible for someone with vision loss, safety needs to be the first thing to think about.”
Not only does this sound utterly restrictive and lacks in any notion that spontaneity can be possible in someone’s life with a visual impairment or other additional needs, it capitalises on the ever-present health and safety excuse used as smokescreen to take away from anyone’s need for adventure or just ‘living a little’.
Of course we need to be safe and I or anyone for that matter would never usually deliberately put themselves at risk, but statements like Nemeth’s leave the floodgates wide open for too much control over those who need more assistance in doing what most people take for granted.
For those who have no concept of danger and need possibly more help and support – they should get it from people who will help them to have the best experience possible and live life to the full.

Of course we don’t live in an ideal world, but if those of us who need more adventure, less convention and thrive on living more on the fringes of what society considers ‘normal’ – additional needs or not, it should be a given that being free-spirited or of a more bohemian persuasion won’t necessarily mean with full vision, hearing, walking mental capacity and anything else under the sun. At the end of the day all of our hearts beat to different drums.