Archive for October 31, 2017

Familiarity is a Blind Gals Best friend

Just as a car driver does not need to actually look at the gear stick to change gears in a car, there are places where I can move around with great ease without the need to see.

To a degree I can walk around in my local gym without the need for my cane or guide dog. The machines all have their set place, it is just me needing to focus on where the other gym goers are, although given the location of the mirrors and the windows in the gym I can easily become disorientated.

One such place I do not need to look is my own home.

Although this does not include my childrens’ bedrooms ….. These are the only two places in my home that I walk with shuffled feet and taking extra care.  But then I have it on good authority that many of my sighted parents do the very same thing in their childrens bedrooms as they are a minefield of Lego, cars, clothes and all things child!

I can also extend this ease of movement to The Scout Hut where I volunteer, although with this environment I have to factor in moving children.  However the main hall, entrance hall and kitchen are set out in such a way that apart from the odd additional table, everything has its place.

Suprisingly another place that I can move with ease is Calshot Climbing Centre.  For obvious reasons the walls never move.  Even though the holds and routes on the walls may alter.  The blue fencing around the climbing walls and the black cubbyhole benches don’t move.  It is just the climbers, their gear and the ropes that do.

The wall also has marked out areas on the floor where you can and cant walk.  These are depicted by a dark red floor for the climbers and belayers to stand in and a black mat flooring where you can wait, stand and walk without being in the way of a climber or their belay partners.  Although saying this, there is not much contrast between the two colours and if I don’t concentrate I can occasionally get it wrong.  But generally I am ok.  Although if I am moving between different climbs; for ease I will link into the arm of my CPiC.

Should I need to go and top up my water bottle or pick up a set of hold keys, because a hold has slipped, I can do this unaided and unsupervised by my partner.  Although I will often ask him

Is there a clear path?

I know to walk with my head down, so that I can look out for objects on the floor.  I also find myself asking others if they are belaying if there is the odd person stood.  Because although I can see the person, I would really struggle to see the rope they were holding on to and as a considerate climber, I would never want to walk near a belayer that may need to suddenly move to support their climber.

This familiarity that is great for me is often an issue of concern for those who do not know me.  Especially as I tend to wear a top that says ‘Blindclimber’ on the back.

I have previously, in other circumstances had people question my blindness.  It is a common occurrence and one that does not faze me. It does however occasionally upset me when people are critical and rude in the way they question.

Why am I telling you this?

Well, Friday while climbing I had one such occurance.

The climbing wall was cold.  So while belaying I had my fleece on.  This covered my top.  So as is usual, I don’t look up to watch my partner climb.  Not because I am rude, but because once his feet are over my head height I can’t see very much of him.  And because I feel is climbing and movements through the rope; I learnt a long time I didn’t have to get neck ache and pretend.

This does however often lead to other climbers (not so) quiet whispers of

Oh my God, he isn’t safe up there.

How can he be safe with her? She isn’t even watching him!

Wow, he’s brave.  How can someone belay without looking out for the guy on the rope?

This is a conversation I have had many a time with my CPiC, he knows I have him.  He knows he is safe.  He would not be happy to climb if he didn’t feel either of them.

Friday was very much the same.  With my fleece on the group of three chatting by us were not so subtle in their conversation and accusations.  So me being the outspoken, no shit personality that I am.  Without them even asking, I politely said

Hey, just so you guys are aware, I can’t see too well, so if you are climbing near here you will need to be more aware of where my partner is as I can’t warn him of where you may be on the wall.

This was met with the usual mumbles and apologies as they were well aware that I had overheard them talking.  And as such were very detailed in the position they were going to climb, which was actually several climbs over and no where near (but this I also already knew from the direction of their voices and the movement of their rope bag)

But it enabled me to make my point and be heard loud and clear.

So, it was my time to climb and off came the fleece.  The back of my top visable and I never thought anything more of it.

That was until later in the evening when I went to full up my water bottle  (afterall when it is cold it is just as important to be hydrated!). and The Three Amigos were sat around the other side of the wall laughing and joking.  I was met with

She can’t really be blind, look she is walking with such confidence she can clearly see what she is doing.  Why would you lie?

I don’t even warrant such comments with an answer.  I just got my water and went back to my partner.  He instantly realised I was bothered by something and so I told him, he knows how this gets to me and told me (sincerely) to ignore them and enjoy the climb.

Which is exactly what I did.

And exactly what I will continue to do each and every time someone questions my abilities.

Afterall, those who are technically blind can often see something.  And they will use that minimal sight to appear as ‘normal’ as the next person.  I don’t believe I am any different to others in that way?

Or maybe I am?  Why don’t you put your comments below.  I am always interested in people views.

You climb with your mind

…… Your arms and legs are only a tool to enable you to achieve any height. (Or something similar)

This was in one of the many climbing books I have read, it is one that has (loosely) stuck with me.  My CPiC often says think positively and you can achieve anything.

Well, on Tuesday I attended the 2nd round of the BMC 2017 Paraclimbing competition at The Castle Climbing Centre in London.  And I am beginning to think I shouldn’t have gone.

I have lots of things going on in my personal life at this time that I am trying to work my way through, the funny weather and darker evenings are beginning to take effect too.

So to say I wasn’t on top form on Tuesday would be an understatement!

I was exhausted, I was emotionally tired before the climbing even started and it was only a very last minute decision that actually saw me attend.

Because up until 10pm Monday night I wasn’t going to go.  I didn’t want to go and perform badly.  But some smooth words of encouragement from my CPiC and I changed my mind, because going and performing badly would still put me above where I would be if I didn’t show up.  So I was already beating my worst possible scoring just by showing up and getting my hands and feet on those first holds.

I set myself a personal challenge to get through the day.

Remembering back to last years competition at The Castle where I didn’t reach for the next hold for fear of failing, I told myself

you have to climb until you fall… Because there is a 50:50 chance you COULD make it

But if you dont reach for it, you won’t know if you could have made it.

My footwork was clunky and I was ill spending energy because of it, but I made it to the top of my first climb and a sense of pride kicked in.

I. may actually know how to do this!

But I was already physically tired and cold.  Never a good mix when you have problems to solve and climbs to overcome.

I was also starting to struggle with the venue.  There was an AMAZING turn out for the competition, with people coming far and wide.  The Centre was only open for the competition. So everyone there was there for just one thing.

The noise was unbearable and distracting at times.  There were different languages, accents and pitches of voices in addition to well deserved cheers and applauses to those climber who had pulled of a good move or topped a route.

I wanted to take my hearing aids out. But instead I took myself out.

Actually I took myself and Fizz out.  Outside to stand amongst the relative quiet (by comparison) busy part of London.

Fizz got to sniff the grass and investigate the lavender bushes while I got to breathe.

Breathing; all be it a fundemental to surviving is often something I forget to do when I am concentrating on a problem or a climb.

I found myself crying as I breathed in; I found myself sitting on the sandy, stony path burying my head into Fizz’s neck as she offered me reassurance.  I found myself feeling rediculous.

So I stood up, dusted myself off went back inside to finish what I started.  To climb !!

Thankfullly my brief departure went unnotice (or at least unmentioned) and I was able to warm myself up with a hot drink and face the climbs ahead.

It wasn’t my best performance.

And by being the only female VI I gained a gold medal (purely by default)

But although I wasn’t at my best, I did complete all of my climbs and my boulder problems.  And by the end of the day I felt much better for showing up and not going up.

The troubles I have are still there and still need to be deal with, but for this competition I did go.  And for that I am thankful.


When Molly and Chris gave a Masterclass

Image of Members of the group sat around a large table with phones, iPads and other tech sat on the table with numerous cups of tea, coffee and water with Molly stood at the head of the table showing her iPad:

Would you think of a pair of glasses as a mobility aid?

When you see an item every day and used by everyone then it becomes ‘the norm’ and not seen as an aid to support someone with a disability.

There are many products that are designed to support those with disabilities, these include glasses, hearing aids, walking sticks, wheelchairs and even other everyday products like iPhones and iPads.

It may not seem like it to a person who has no sensory or motor disabilities, yet all apple products were designed with accessibility and intergration as their base principle.

There are obviously other computer operating systems, programmes and technologies available.  But as a Mac (made famous in a Mitchell & Webb sketch) which I have been ever since I studied at university; way back when Apple Macintosh was for everything design and Windows was for everything administrative.

I have spoken before of my liking for Apple products, and in this I am not alone.  Molly from The Molly Watt Trust is a big believer and user of Apple products, her charity have also helped to support and fund those with Ushers Syndrome by funding an Apple Watch programme as she herself had found its features so very beneficial.

As part of an Ushers Social and awareness weekend (The Weekend that almost wasn’t) Molly was going to give a presentation similar to that that she gives to large companies about accessibility and awareness.

Her work as a Keynote speaker and accessibility advisor sees her working alongside Chris from Sigma ( Among others.

Molly explained the way in which she made use of the accessibility on her iPad.  She spoke of the obvious ‘voice-over’ and how she didn’t use it, how she found ‘zoom’ and ‘speak screen’ more neneficial to her.

She spoke of how you could set you home button triple click to bring you a list of accessibility options.  Including how to use your camera as a magnifier.

These little ‘nuggets’ of information were some that I was aware of and some that I wasn’t.

Since the latest iOS update there was also a rather clever new accessibility feature called ‘smart invert’ this is where the screen and text are inverted in the colours used, but the p have photographs are not……. Savi g confusion with colours when looking at images.

Chris spoke of how accessibility is in the every day, how as I said at the start of this post , “ when something is used and seen every day it becomes the ‘norm’” and how the work he does with Sigma and Molly is about making that a reality.

Molly explained how she found “Hey Siri” a great help; although this was when she realised that another piece of technology she was used stopped the others in the room from heading the response.

You see, Molly wears ReSound hearing aids; hearing aids that stream her iPhone and iPad directly and clearly into her ears.  Just as if she were wearing headphones!

Molly’s work has seen her work with ReSound and it is through this work that I have followed her and learnt about the fantastic products that are available.

Molly and the work she does through her company Molly Watt Ltd is paving the way for those with sightless, Ushers and hearing loss.

This masterclass have me some fantastic information to work with, some new connections to talk to and more importantly new friends who enjoy similar struggles to me.

The session was just a snapshot of what Molly and Chris do when talking to big companies, where there is often very rarely anyone with additional needs in the audience.

But it was enough to make me feel confident that accessibility becoming part of ‘the notm’ Could be a reality in the not to far distant future.

Why do I climb?

I watched a climbing film this morning about a climber with progressive cerebral palsy.  He took up climbing as it looked more fun than physiotherapy.  When asked what he enjoyed most about climbing he answered:

I am equal to everybody else.

This comment has had a profound effect on me.  A friend asked me a few months ago; how do you feel when your climbing?

I couldn’t answer. I told her it was something I would have to think about and come back to her on.

It is a simple enough question isn’t it?

How do I feel when I am climbing?

I feel free.

No-one is looking at me when I am climbing, they are all too busy concentrating on their own climbs or climbing partners.

I have no idea what it looks like to climb (not first hand, without zooming in on pictures) therefore I do not feel conscious of how I look.  Don’t get me wrong there is the odd occasion I come down off a wall and I can feel the sweat stinging my eyes and I have a fair idea of how red and sweaty I look, but that is no different to any other Climber that has just given their all.

Climbing is not something I have known with much better sight.  It is not like the sight I had 15 years ago, which although pretty poor was much clearer than the sight I have now; the sort of sight that wearing glasses made a real difference; where as now they only really help with REALLY close up things.

An example, as a child I rode a bike, as an adult I rode a bike and even up until last year I felt comfortable riding a bike.  Since my hearing loss I have found it a real struggle to feel safe on a bike.  Not the physical movement of actually turning the peddles and making the wheels move, but the ability to even judge how far my foot is from the ground.

I refuse to give up on ever riding again, but my days of riding alone or just taking the kids out are gone.

[I have digressed slightly….Fogive me]

With climbing there isn’t this feeling. Because the routes on walls are very rarely the same after 3 months, there is no ‘marker’ to judge my changes in sight.

The only way I can judge my climbing is the same as anyone with any type of sport…… How I feel the next day !!

I am working on stretching and movement, on endurance and core strength, which in turn is improving my climbing.

When I am on a wall, only the thought of reaching the next hold and getting further than I did before is on my mind.

My sight loss and hearing loss don’t come into it.  They make up such a small part of me as a person, and yes they clearly do have an affect on the way I climb.

But for me I JUST CLIMB.

And just as Nik Royale (BMC Article linked here) commented how he felt about climbing over 5 years ago; I find myself absorbing his comment and believing in it, regardless of if you take part in Paraclimbing or other forms of competition.

Climbing is about equality.  A climbing wall doesn’t care about the colour of your skin, how your body looks or even how your body works.  It enables you to find a way, to reach personal challenges and milestones.

It is simply there for you to climb it.



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