The trip I took with a group of fantastic blind and partially sighted travellers to the Italian Alps in December, made me realise further more how important is to travel when you have a disability.
When you have no disabilities and you find yourself travelling a lot, you often take for granted the obstacles you encounter on the route. Looking for the check in desk, delays, passport control, find a taxi from the airport to the accommodation, check in at the hotel, choosing a meal, getting on with activities and so on…
As a visually impaired these basic obstacles may become extremely taunting, you are wandering into unchartered territories where language is not the only barrier. For many these issues are enough to put an end on many dreams of travelling. Although you read here and there of amazing individuals who blind sailing or climb mountains, this is not the case for the majority of visually impaired individuals. Life is difficult and we aren’t all superheroes.
Said so, obstacles should not be a deterrent to enjoy life to the full and experience new parts of the world in a fairly independent manner. I recall years ago, an old man once told me: “Damiano, it’s not the place, it’s the people”. This simple sentence still makes me deeply think when I organise holidays for people with disabilities. And this is why I face a huge task when selecting destinations.
Since its inception, Seable had been growing through the years, and I do not hide the fact I get contacted almost on a weekly base by people from all over the world claiming to offer fantastic fully sensory activities which would benefit visually impaired travellers. It may seem a paradox coming from a tour operator, but for me, the destination is secondary, as the old wise man once told me, first comes the people. That’s why this Christmas I chose Sauze D’Oulx as a new skiing destination along the already tested and established Slovenia.
After carefully checking various skiing resorts, I opted for this charming small village not too far from Turin, in the North of Italy. My reason for choosing Sauze, along with the friendliness and accessibility of the location, was mainly because of the skiing school’s experience with visually impaired skiers.
All fellow skiers know that skiing is not an easy task, especially when you cannot see where are you going; that’s why it is imperative for a great blind skiing instructor to also be a competent guide. Safety first.
I know could go on to describe the holiday but I doubt many will find my point of view too interesting, instead I asked one of our blind attendees to share her experience; here some extracts from her account:
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 of us 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 track 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”!
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, its beautiful snow-capped slopes and even our high-vis florescent orange t-shirts which declared to the world in no uncertain terms that we were ‘blind skiers’. 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 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.
Moving away from the rewarding feeling of having succeeded into introducing a new destination as tour operator; the most gratifying feeling, the one that really touched me the most, was the realisation a sport like skiing, so alien to many visually impaired people, could indeed be enjoyed without barriers. Seeing some of the guys who never experienced more than 5 inches of snow, enjoying the speed of skiing downhill with the wind in their face, and the muscle pain of a long day on the slopes made me realise once more, that often barriers can be knocked down.
Working on a daily basis with blind and partially sighted I am aware of the struggles related with this type of disability, but I am also realising that more and more people affected by blindness are realising they can indeed enjoy the world, new destinations, new feelings, new smells, new tastes. The world is changing fast in regard of disabilities and as long as you are with someone who is willing to tell you stuff and answer questions, it works really well.
Article written by Damiano La Rocca