Monday, 30 June 2014

Blindfolded walk - Stephen

Stephen with his guide
Stephen is not visually impaired, but we thought that this story was appropriate to share on the Blindlife Blog because he discusses in a very articulate way the challenges that he experienced whilst taking part in a blindfolded walk.

I spent six weeks as part of my medical course at an eye hospital, the Tilganga Institute of Ophthalmology (TIO) in Kathmandu, Nepal. After having an unforgettable experience, I was inspired to raise money for one of TIO's partner organisations, The Himalayan Cataract Project (HCP), to give something back.

So I did an eight hour blindfolded walk for over 10km in May 2014 through the Peak District (walking from Totley to Grindleford and taking the train back to Sheffield).

It went extremely well - better than I could have hoped.

We had a stream of challenges which had me doing things like taking a selfie, salsa dancing, walking with my shoelaces tied together, giving someone a piggy-back, climbing stairs without guides, buying a water bottle etc.

I was personally just imagining a simple trek up Fulwood and then back, but the person who planned the trek route, Sultana, brought me through various types of terrain. It kept things interesting and made it a real challenge as we traversed muddy parts, steep slopes, rocky roads etc.

Although this was definitely challenging and I had to be constantly focused on my every step, the most unsettling part of the walks were always when I was told I was in an enclosed social setting (i.e. cafe and train back to Sheffield). The reason for this was that visual input determined a huge proportion of my communication/social skills, from eye contact to body language. So, it was odd not knowing if I was facing someone when talking to them or not being able to pick up social cues.

Being blindfolded also heightened all my other senses. When you don’t have any concrete visual input, a lot of your interpretation of reality is up to your imagination. I exaggerated the sound of a small waterfall into the massive ones I encountered during my time in Nepal. I was able to identify my guides by the shape of their shoulders/arms and I became hyper-aware of the nuances of touch, like when someone was showing worry, care, humour and etc.

When we stopped to eat, I wasn't sure what I was eating beforehand and I distinctly remember being incredibly satisfied by a croissant filled with egg salad, as the texture/tastes were a wonderful surprise.

From the guide's point of view, it was clear that leading someone who is blind/visually impaired is difficult. I needed them to speak to me constantly about my surroundings and the instructions had to be clear and concise. I can imagine that guiding can be exhausting, especially in the uneven terrain we walked through when every little change in the ground is of concern.

All in all though, it was a fun day and a great learning experience for everyone. The weather co-operated, my friends/guides were extremely supportive/trustworthy and we all had a good laugh.

I'd like to thank my donors, blindfolded talent video submitters, challenge proposers, the Sheffield Royal Society for the Blind for their handcrafted blindfold, the Himalayan Cataract Project for their support/encouragement and my supportive friends/guides (Sultana, Mohammed, Pei Jean and Karen).