Welcome to the July edition of “Insight”! This month, we look to champion rower, Victoria Nolan, for advice on taking those first steps to travelling with vision loss. Next, we hear the story of how one boy with vision loss travelled to Mexico to inspire other children to learn and, finally, offer some great travel resources for those with sight loss.
Travel tips Q & A with world-class rower Victoria Nolan
Victoria Nolan — a special education teacher, gold medalist (World Rowing Championships), motivational speaker and advocate for people with disabilities — was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa (RP) at 18. She won a place on the national adaptive four-person rowing team that won a bronze in the 2007 World Championships, and came sixth at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics. We caught up with Victoria in June to discuss travel and training for this summer’s London Paralympic Games.
What have you been up to?
It’s been a very busy year for me, I have been teaching and training hard for the Paralympic Games in London this summer, and keeping up with my most important job - being a wife and mom! Right now I’m in Italy at a training camp before we head over to Munich to race in the Rowing World Cup.
What do you recommend to prepare for a trip?
Be as organized as you can before you leave. Take care of money so you don’t have to try to find a bank machine. Arrange clothing, documents, snacks and all the comforts you need, so you don’t panic trying to find things. Organization is the key to staying calm and being confident.
Try to look up where you’re staying before you get there to get a sense of what’s there. I use my iPhone for taking notes about directions.
What are the more challenging aspects?
The first few steps are the hardest! I have to take a deep breath and almost feel like I’m about to step off a cliff, but then I’m into it and I just keep going.
The second hardest part is swallowing my pride and accepting the fact that I am going to have to ask for help. Ironically, in this situation asking for help actually gives you independence, because it’s allowing you to do the travelling yourself.
Do you have any tricks or techniques that help you?
Let the airline know when you buy your ticket that you need assistance and then go to the Special Services counter when you arrive. They can escort you to your gate, the flight attendants will give you a personal briefing on everything you need to know on the plane, and someone will meet you at the other end to help you get where you need to go.
Have locations of foreign places written on cards to show to taxi drivers or people in the street to help you. Before you go, you could also get someone to translate some simple phrases and write them down.
It usually takes me about three days to get familiar with a new place. It gets easier. Try to get a room that is on the main floor or close to the elevator so it will be easier to locate.
How important is it for a person with vision loss to feel independent enough to travel?
If you want to travel and your vision loss is stopping you, it is very important that you take steps to overcome it. You can’t let vision loss stop you from living life. There will be times that frustrate you, but in the end it will be worth it; the feeling of accomplishment far outweighs any inconvenience or frustration.
What would you say to those who don’t think they can travel?
I know that people can do anything if they are determined. Who would have ever thought the girl who failed gym class would become a world rowing champion? I wanted to do it and I did it. Your mind can overcome anything.
Start with small steps: try a mini vacation somewhere not too far away and get used to being in a hotel. Build up to bigger trips when you are ready. One thing I have noticed, all around the world, is that people are eager and happy to help you.
Read more about Victoria and the London Paralympic Games.
Tait Hoyem expands his world to spread literacy,
Up until recently, 12-year-old CNIB client Tait Hoyem’s routine was typical: going to school, coming home, visiting friends.
But Tait’s world was about to get bigger, thanks to the power of technology and the support of CNIB.
“When Tait received an iPad, it changed his world,” says his mother, Char. He wanted to help others with vision loss benefit from the accessible device so that they could connect with the world around them. “He knew about this school for the blind in Mazatlan, Mexico and felt that he needed to go there and help these children,” she says.
Tait wanted to make a gift of three iPads to the school of Una Luz Hacia El Mundo (roughly translated, ‘a light toward the world’). In no time, the Hoyem family was boarding a plane for Mexico.
But they soon found out Mexico was not Canada… and navigating the country held challenges the family hadn’t anticipated.
Char explains: “Big cities in Canada, like Calgary, are largely accessible. That acknowledgment is there… Mexico was 10 times more difficult.”
Tait had received training through his local CNIB to travel independently using a white cane. But arriving in Mexico, he had a hard time believing his skills would transfer to the unfamiliar environment.
The reality of those [independent travel] lessons really hit home in a foreign country… The training is extensive and you don’t realize just how important it is until you are actually using it,” says Char.
Mazatlan’s sidewalks were over a foot high, with steep slopes; convenient for cars, but hazardous for someone with little to no vision. Among other things, CNIB taught Tait how to use a monocle to watch street traffic and what to listen for when travelling – skills that made sure he could travel safely.
“CNIB taught Tait how to work outside his comfort zone – to function just about anywhere, really,” says Char.
When Tait finally arrived at the school, he got straight to work. Just as CNIB helped him navigate his world, Tait began to help others navigate the online world, even getting the teachers involved by placing towels over the iPads so they couldn’t rely on their vision.
The student had become the teacher.
7 great travel resources for people with sight loss
With the summer well underway, so is talk of travel and leisure. If you’re someone with vision loss, you know travelling can have its challenges, especially if you’re exploring a new destination. Given the importance of planning to any successful getaway, what steps would you take to ensure a safe and independent travel experience?
Whether your destination is within your own province or abroad, here are some great resources to enhance independence for avid travelers with vision loss.
- Shop CNIB
Featuring a range of popular assistive products, Shop CNIB is a cutting-edge resource for travelers looking to products to enhance their vacation experience. Whether it’s a talking travel alarm clock, portable LED light or pocket LED 7X magnifiers, Shop CNIB has it all.
- Canada Food Inspection Agency (CFIA)
Requirements for entering a country with a service dog can vary widely among countries. If you’re a guide dog user, the Canada Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has a list of requirements. From their website, you can download the required health certificates and find the nearest CFIA office for validation.
Traveleyes provides holidays for travelers with vision loss venturing to some of the most fascinating destinations in the world. The company pairs travelers with sight loss with sighted vacationers — either group or solo — and offers holiday destinations in Europe, Africa, Asia, Australasia and the Americas.
They also offer helpful and interesting tips from the well-known travel experts at Lonely Planet in electronic text formatted versions.
- Society for Accessible Travel and Hospitality
The Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality (SATH) is an educational non-profit membership organization whose goal is to raise awareness of the needs of all travelers with disabilities. Their site features a range of tips and resources, including blogs, news and information on key destinations.
Planning a trip to the United Kingdom? The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) has an extensive website offering a wealth of local travel information to the two million people with sight loss they serve in the U.K., including detailed information on the London Underground subway system. Other resources for those visiting the U.K. include Vision Hotels, a select group of hotels specifically tailored to the needs of travelers with sight loss.
- My Blind Spot
This organization seeks to preserve and expand the rights and supports ensured to people who are blind or partially sighted, including those with a print disability, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Marco Polo Travel Resource section of the website offers up a good selection of resources travelers with vision loss with a strong message of empowerment and independence.
- The Apple Store
For those with vision loss, the iPhone or iPad feature an exciting array of accessibility features that make the device easier to use, including cutting-edge apps and standard features like VoiceOver screen reader, the world’s first gesture-based screen reader. Enhanced for your iPhone, Lonely Planet apps include city guides, language translators, audio walking tours and audio phrasebooks.
Safe and happy travels!
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