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.


By Dawn M. Sanders

Last week witnessed the unleashing of, not only a budget and economic pledges or predictions we all feared, it was laced with the all-too-familiar ideologies embraced by the Tories.

Dawn Sanders at home
Dawn Sanders at home

We have a complex housing bill not yet understood by many, the rush to make every school (primary or secondary) an academy and most noteworthy, the further cuts to welfare benefits – adding to the despair of austerity.

So, focusing on the ‘dis-ability cuts as they are inevitably coined, I’m taking this opportunity to turn it all on its head by trumpeting my passions for equality, empowerment and true dignity…

Take note: I won’t be placing that all-prevailing, crippling label the main stay in this country insist on preceding before us as ‘people first’!

I have argued this point of contention time and again – mostly with ‘people’ with additional needs themselves and, I’m sticking to my guns!

My visual impairment is of course an integral part of my identity, but certainly not the first among equals in being a woman, mother or journalist…

A ‘dis-abled computer mouse is one that doesn’t work, ditto for toilets, cars etc.

Is it overly PC nit-picking? I think not…

As a journalist and writer, words, the connotations behind them and what they represent are hugely meaningful – especially when you’re on the receiving end of those negative connotations, such as lesser than, subordinate, weak – I could go on, but you get the gist.

The point is, just because I and others are visually impaired (or otherwise) doesn’t mean I can’t raise my son single-handedly as I’ve done; I still cook clean and maintain my home; I still have relationships with people in the human way most would expect and, I even enjoy some of life’s more clandestine pleasures…

This all isn’t to say for a second, that I and others don’t get blatant discrimination, especially in looking for work, social environments or on an equal playing field in the game of meeting a possible partner – in fact, being visually impaired, hearing impaired, wheelchair user, with learning/cognitive  difficulties, is often an extremely isolating place to be.

However, the argument of the so-called “social model” which dictates all of these social/practical constraints should dub us as ‘dis-abled to the tune of how society sees myself and others is simply backwards.

It all hinges on, what one cannot do, rather than, what one can do…

Enough said, so when people go out in force – protesting their benefits are being taken away against a backdrop of: “Is This Any Way to Treat ‘dis-abled People” as the banner read, I’m insulted at being considered inherently vulnerable or fragile.

These people who, insist on milking an entrenched victim culture, one I have to fight against every day to “prove myself” a capable parent, employable or dare I say it, a sexual being, are ‘not doing me any favours’!

I’m forever infuriated at being lumped in a category of the “sick and ‘dis-abled” as people with long term illnesses have their own specific circumstances and anyone with severe/complex needs, is an individual – there’s never a one-size-fits-all…

Ultimately, do we not have the right ‘not to be impoverished’?

Why aren’t the likes of Dis-abled People Against the Cuts crying out for more equality in the workplace, employment or closing the loopholes within the so-called anti-discrimination act.

Yes, this government and its ideologies have handed us a double-edged cross to bear: on one hand, because we are rarely taken for our hard earned merits and qualifications when job hunting. For example,  when employers take one look at me I get: “’Uh, how would you manage the stairs, finding the toilets – all delivered with an uncomfortable demeanour…

On the other hand, we’re told we’re scroungers if we’re not working in an environment which doesn’t give us half a chance and, supposedly the government is trying to get us into work?

So, what are they, the ideologists, doing to close the gap of discrimination for those of us who want to use our skills?


The DPAC (‘Dis-abled People Against the Cuts) movement is a short-sighted reactionary group – not offering solutions to the poverty trap most people with additional needs find themselves in – clinging onto the benefits system like a life raft.

In milking the victim culture, they don’t place us on an equal footing when the perfectionist bandits – standing outside nightclubs refusing to let us in under the guise of, health & safety or, we just couldn’t cope with a rough & ready mosh crowd.

By insisting to maintain the lowered status within society’s pecking order, those protesting against benefit cuts really should be protesting on why we are sentenced to a life absent of the same opportunities, most people simply take for granted.

Yes, the benefits we rely on help with added expenses: such as increased taxi fares, holistic therapies managing specific conditions or mobility equipment; (all of which should be secured) but being on state benefits is not an independent or dignified path and one which leaves us wide open to the shenanigans of the state.

Granted, there are those who cannot work due to their conditions, be it mental or physical, yet that should never be the thrust of what is perceived to be living “dignified lives?”

No, in my book of cross-cultural experience, dignity hinges on what I ‘can do’ and making it possible!

I want an empowering campaign which says: yes, I have limitations and additional employment/educational/support needs, but can still contribute to society in a meaningful way.

I want a campaign which says, I have to work harder, so deserve EQUAL PAY, OPPORTUNITIES promoting me as a social/sexual being. Not a campaign/culture of downtrodden, institutionalised oppression…






Our Lucky Children

Night before last I walked into our open-plan living room/dining room and put dinner on the table for my son and I. Then I heard the story on Channel 4’s Unreported World: they were talking of a school for deaf children. I immediately plucked up my ears, as my lad is deaf, I wondered about what they were featuring. The journalist (I can’t remember who covered the story) said how she was inspired – having learned a few signs in connecting with the students. I wondered what school they were featuring – then she finally said, Uganda, and I thought: ‘oh’! She spoke of how many of the kids had come from abusive backgrounds and homes, just because they were deaf and the only safe place for them where they could communicate at all, was the school. I thought: that wasn’t too dissimilar from what I used to observe at my son’s old special school in Manchester – there were parents who had court orders not to see their kids and they had either been dumped there with no choice but to be inevitably institutionalised. There were of course, parents who supported their children at this school, but the clincher was, they had to take a rigorous exam to win tuition into a secondary school for the deaf. For the primary school which was featured on the programme, I didn’t catch whether parents had to pay for it or not – I walked in in the middle of the story. Some of the children had English names like Peter – some had African names. Many children in Uganda are too poor to go to school at all, so I’m assuming the ones which made it to this school were lucky to have been able to go. The reporter pointed out how, representatives from the school scouted the outer most villages in the countryside, for deaf children who were missing out on school and an education – not to mention the chance for communication through sign language. When my lad got the place at Manchester School for the Deaf (now Seashell Trust) although it was far from where we lived in Wales at the time, it didn’t cost me anything, as it was paid for by the local authority. In fact, the school had a lot of money to provide each student with their own room, towels, bed linen, three healthy meals a day with snacks and some state-of-the-art technology and expertise for helping them reach their full potential. I got the sense that, the school in Uganda thrived on some basic input, but it went a long way for children who would otherwise be stuck at home, not educated and stuck in an environment where no one could communicate with them. The reporter also pointed out how, in many scenarios, children or young people returned home to be beaten and bullied, because they were deaf. It was often thought they were cursed, so they were robustly shut out of society. The situation in the west of course is much more subtle in isolating people. The West is more advanced in that: people that are deaf or hearing impaired will have good healthcare, technologies and strategies to make day-to-day life better, but they’re more likely to be isolated from their communities or taken advantage of. I had to fight tirelessly for two years to get my son into the specialist college where he now goes and thrives. The local authority and some from the local health board are what jointly funds the high costs of his tailored education. So, this moving story of the school for deaf children and young people in Uganda; the bitter-sweet story of, whether or not they were able to go onto further their education, based on an exam and fortunate tuition (which would more than likely come from generous donations) just made me cry. I thought of the children who hadn’t been found or the parents who couldn’t afford to send their kids to school in Uganda’s poor villages. I thought of how, despite all the fight, my son has actually been lucky, loved and supported. Of course we don’t know what the future holds, as he’s on the cusp of adulthood and uncharted waters, but his opportunities are far better than if he was in Uganda. So this is why, when I hear one of those wining toddlers in the shops in town: “mummy I want…” – it really gets on my nerves. You want, you want, you want, child; but if you only knew how much you already have, have, have…

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