Tag Archives: sports for disabled people

Blind Skiing on the Slopes of Sauze – Italy

The last article of the year has been written by Eeshma Qazi and it’s a resume of her experience on one of Seable holidays.

 

How do you feel about skiing? Are you a champion skier, gliding gracefully down those slopes every December. Or maybe you like me, are a complete novice, whose idea of a good winter holiday is more a mountain of food by a warm fire than flinging yourself unceremoniously down a mountain of snow. And so, it was to my very great surprise and to my family’s complete shock, that I found myself along with a dozen 18-29 year olds on this VICTA/Seable trip. All of us were destined for the ski slopes of Sauze d’Oulx, a charming village nestled in the Italian alps. Our only commonalities being our visual impairment and our appetite for adventure.

 

 

At the Thistle Heathrow terminal 5, amidst the thrum of newly minted conversation and warm chocolate brownies, we were introduced to our tour guides for the next week. For those of you new to the scene, VICTA is a charity which caters for the needs (both social and otherwise) of young visually impaired people) and which often works with Seable holidays (a social enterprise and travel operator) for disabled travellers. Between the two organisations, we had four dedicated sighted guides as well as a number of others in the group who could see enough to assist. Itineraries discussed, icebreakers exchanged and ground rules established, we all went to bed promptly in anticipation of our unseasonably early flight on Tuesday morning.

 

After a blissfully short flight to Geneva and a bus journey through rolling, snow dappled alpine vistas, we finally arrived at Villa Cary, our hotel. More B&B than sprawling resort, we found to our delight that we had almost free run of the place. After a filling but touristy meal of a full English brunch, we retired to our rooms for a spot of sleep before reconvening at the hotel bar for dinner. Food came in the shape of a typically Mediterranean 3 course meal which left us full to bursting and ready for bed once again.

 

The next 4 days followed more or less the same pattern minus the continual urge to snooze. After a breakfast of bread, cheeses, spreads and meats, we spent our mornings on the pistes skiing with the help of one-on-one instructorship from an amazingly friendly and competent team of ski instructors whom we all got to know on a first name basis.

Blind Skiing on the Slopes of Sauze - Italy

Following an initial assessment, we were divided into groups according to our skiing expertise and took it in daily turns to do repeat rounds of the nursery, blue or red slopes with some serial skiers in the group choosing to return for some more skiing in the afternoons.

 

It is fair to say that sun burnt and windswept though we undoubtedly were, each one of us improved in our stamina and skill over the course of the trip, some by progressing to another slope, others by independently learning to stop, slow down and turn, and others still by simply conquering their fears of the piste enough to relax and enjoy the adrenaline that comes from controlled descent. For me, victory came in the entirely unflattering but completely honest observation of one of the instructors who informed me blithely that I must have improved, given that I was no longer so taut with nerves as to resemble a “penguin”!

 

Blind Skiing on the Slopes of Sauze - Italy

 

A café located next to the slopes formed our daily lunch haunt, serving a hearty fair of local delicacies such as rich polenta with sausage and veg, grilled burgers with fontina and gorgo, rustic soups, gloriously cheesy gnocchi and beautifully gratinated crespelle (soft pancakes liberally submerged in béchamel and topped with crispy mozzarella. For those of us who chose not to ski in the afternoons, free time included going sledding or to a local spa for massages, gym, facials and an enticing array of other treatments including Turkish baths and the exotic sounding Lomi Lomi. Evening meals included in our hotel stay were all served in the hotel’s bar-restaurant area. We made friends with the waitress and chef who were always happy to take requests and recreate our favorites from a few days before. A surprisingly diverse group of individuals, we all bonded over the leisurely dinners peppered with self reflection and tired contentment as well as the card games and competitive team quizzes which followed.

 

Blind Skiing on the Slopes of Sauze - Italy

 

As is the way with all good things, we were sorry on Sunday morning to have to wave goodbye to the quaint cobbled streets of Sauze, it’s beautiful snowcapped slopes and even our high vis florescent orange tea shirts which declared to the world in no uncertain terms that we were “blind skiers”. Bundled up warmly against the chill,we took a transfer back to Geneva where the promise of a swanky hotel awaited us. Highlights in Geneva included chocolate shopping and in particular, a mammoth 4.5 kg Toblerone (the size of a small toddler), meltingly delicious gruvyère and Emmental fondue, crispy potato Rösti and the lightest of mascarpone pizzas. After a general meander around the strangely quiet and orderly streets festooned with a muted, civilised sort of Christmas cheer, we headed back to the hotel to get ready for a sumptuous dinner,a Swiss pick and mix of the best of Italian and French cuisine, from tartars to risotto, steaks to pasta.

 

 

We returned to England on Monday exactly one week later, better friends and less floundering skiers than we had left it. Each of us glad of the opportunity and already planning our next potential VICTA/Seable experience. As for me, how do I feel about skiing now? Good enough to want to try it again, this time head held high, shoulders bent with intent, feet arched snow-plough like and stomach firmly concave.

Activities for the blind: 6 exciting suggestions

What exciting, sporty activities for the blind are out there?

As we all should know, blindness does not mean the end of your active life. As events such as the Paralympics and IBSA World Games show, there are a great many blind individuals who do not let their disability get in the way of an active lifestyle. You may be surprised at the wide range of exciting, adventurous activities for the blind, from scuba diving to skiing. At Seable, we specialise in accessible active holidays: as such, we have a lot of experience in adapting more challenging activities to make them accessible. In this blogpost we will take a peek at 6 activities for the blind which will exhilarate you and test your body’s limits. All of these are available within the UK or are offered by a UK company; many of them are offered by Seable. These activities for the blind are fun and exciting, a great way to keep in shape, and an empowering way to master your disability.

Sailing

Sailing is a great way of improving your teamwork and communication skills, and honing your other senses: blind sailors have to constantly make calculated decisions from limited sensory information, such as the acoustic sounds from buoys and opponents’ boats.

If you’re in the UK and interested in getting involved, you’re in good company! There are thousands of disabled and blind sailors around the UK, and our blind sailing team is one of the most successful in the world.  Blind Sailing, a registered Charity, aims to help blind and partially sighted people sail at all levels. They organise regular training sessions and racing events, provide coaching and help to enable novices learn to sail. RYA Sailability is a programme which introduces 53,000 young people and adults with disabilities to sailing per year. Their site also provides a search function to find your local sailing clubs and watersports sites which are approved to cater for the visually impaired.

Scuba diving

Scuba diving can be an incredible experience: the sensation of the current, the muted sound and the feeling of calm and weightlessness combine to create an entirely different world. To scuba dive blind may seem like an arduous challenge, but with the proper instruction it can actually be safe and enjoyable. Seable offers courses for the disabled, from complete beginners to advanced.

At Seable, we offer a full five-day scuba diving course in the Mediterranean, with each dive around 2-3 hours a day. The course is accredited by the H.S.A (Handicapped Scuba Association), and culminates with a diver certification which is valid worldwide.

Activities for the blind - Scuba Diving

Our Scuba diving course in action

Rock climbing

You may have heard of Erik Weiheimayer, one of the most intrepid and inspirational blind adventurers in the world. Shortly after going blind, he received a newsletter in Braille about a group taking blind people rock climbing. He decided to sign up, and later described his early experiences: “Although there was a lot of flailing and struggle in those early days, the freedom of attacking a challenge and problem solving my way through it invigorated me and helped me to feel less trapped by blindness.” This “early seed of adventure” fuelled his ambition to reach ever greater heights, and on May 25, 2001, he became the only blind person ever to reach the summit of Mt. Everest. Time Magazine ran a cover story honouring him, and he was interviewed by Oprah and Jay Leno, amongst others. Today, Erik still refuses to let his blindness get in the way of his adventures, and continues to rock climb, kayak, ski and even paraglide in locations all around the world. Find out more about his adventures on his website.

If you’d like to follow in Erik’s rock holds, there are a range of ways to get involved in the UK. Actionnaires is a sport and activity club for children and young people aged 8 to 16 run by Action for Blind People. Over 16s are also welcome and are encouraged to take on a leadership role at the clubs. These clubs offer a range of activities from swimming to athletics, and, of course, rock climbing. The Bendrigg Trust is a residential activity centre in the Cumbria countryside which offers rock climbing and abseiling for disabled people of any age or ability, along with a whole host of other activities.

Tandem biking

In blind tandem biking, a sighted rider, or “pilot”, sits at the front of the bike and communicates what is ahead to the visually impaired person, or “stoker”, in the back seat. The pilot gives information about obstacles, turns, upcoming hills, and when to break, whilst the stoker concentrates on pedalling, breaking and communicating with the pilot. Tandem cycling can provide a sense of speed which is uncommon for a blind person in everyday life, great exercise, and a great way of building camaraderie. Many blind cyclists tandem bike with a friend or partner as part of the rehabilitation process, in order to aid communication and mutual understanding.

Tandem cycling has been rapidly increasing in popularity in the UK following our success in the Olympics and Commonwealth games, and there are a number of clubs and organisations in the UK for blind and partially sighted people. A good idea would be to contact the Tandem Club, which has a Disabilities Liaison Officer who may be able to help with queries related to disabled people and to visually impaired cyclists. The Two’s Company initiative by the charity Life Cycle UK enlists sighted volunteers to help the visually impaired enjoy a day out cycling on a tandem bicycle.

Horse riding

Horseback riding has been shown to have many physical and cognitive benefits for blind and visually impaired children and adults. Known as “hippotherapy“, therapeutic horseback riding has been shown to improve posture, strength, balance, navigational skills, coordination and emotional well-being.

The Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) has over 18,000 instructors and volunteers, and offers activities for the blind for all age groups. Hoofin-About take people from all over the world to go on horse-riding holidays in Wales, and can accommodate visually impaired or blind riders. At Seable we also offer a horse-riding activity, which lasts 90 minutes and is carried out by fully trained instructors.

Skiing

A high energy, physically demanding sport that many sighted people can’t do, skiing can provide a rare sense of sheer exhilaration and freedom as you fly downhill at blistering pace, slicing through the wind and the snow. It’s also a very social sport: it’s common to have holiday groups of visually impaired skiers, who get together at the end of the day and share their adventures.

The Ski 2 Freedom Foundation provides a comprehensive guide to skiing, snowboarding and other winter sport activities for the visually impaired, with a list of ski centres and resorts known to provide instruction and suitability for anyone who has a sight impairment, both abroad and in the UK. Whistler, a mountain resort in British Columbia and host of the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic games, offers many accessible sports venues and skiing and snowboarding lessons in the winter as part of its Whistler Adaptive Sport Programme.

Hopefully this post has given you just a glimpse into the expansive world of activities for the blind out there. With some ingenuity, hard work, and experienced help almost any activity that an able-bodied person is able to do can be done by a visually impaired person. At Seable we relish making our activities for the blind accessible, from scuba diving to windsurfing, and can offer you the help and experience to give you the opportunity to shine. See below for our testimony from the Paralympic Athlete Stephen Campbell, who travelled with us and took part in our scuba course, windsurfing and jet skiing:

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