I have a disability. You can’t tell. I wander around the world enjoying my travels, soaking it all up, but probably missing a lot of the detail. You see, my disability is a visual impairment and so it affects my ability to see well. So how do I go about travelling with a disability?
A Quick Introduction to my Condition
People often ask me what my sight impairment is called and if I’m totally honest, I don’t know. It’s atrophy of the optic nerve…or my ganglion cells can’t send electrical signals to my brain properly….they are still trying to figure it out. As my lenses aren’t affected, glasses, contacts and laser surgery wouldn’t help. My condition is degenerative and thus provides a fantastic excuse to travel.
“I need to go now whilst I can still see it”.
Of course there was the video of the blind traveller that made the rounds recently but I’m going to pretend that it wasn’t “a thing” and stick to my excuse.
Travelling With a Disability – With Others
My friends are all aware of my eye condition and so they are all extremely helpful when we travel. When it comes to checking departure boards, spotting bus numbers across a bus station, or finding a hostel sign, I know they have my back.
My disability isn’t visible which means that people often forget how blind I am. This, in turn, means I am not looked after like a puppy and people they only offer help when I really need it or when it is asked for. “Can I borrow your eyes” is a bit of a catch phrase for me. I do like to feel like I am enjoying my independence when I travel though. I am sure that everyone that travels with a disability feels the same way.
Travelling With a Disability – Alone
When I am alone I have to develop coping mechanisms to solve my problem.
From a young age, I was overly confident about approaching strangers for help. As an adult I tend to aim for those in uniform, but I am still perfectly happy to bother people for help. There are countries where this wouldn’t get me very far. In India, for example, people will helpfully advise you even if they don’t actually know the answer. I could waste hours walking the wrong way!
My new favourite toy is my iPhone SE. Tapping the home button three times brings up a handy zoom function which means I can look at far away signs. People in coffee shops think I am a coffee wierdo that is photographing the menu, but otherwise I would never know that a medium is called a “vapirano” and that they offer soy, coconut and almond milk in their “icyfrappicoldichinos” alongside the skimmed and semi skimmed varieties.
It really comes in useful when it comes to departure boards. I was SEVENTH in line for my solo Ryanair flight to Amsterdam. Not bad for someone who was taking snaps of the board every 30 seconds.
So how does my sight impairment it affect me when I travel? Here are some pros and cons:
Mr Fluskey is a very happy chap when my disability gets us a discount. In Universal Studios, Orlando I saved about 10% and when the tickets are so expensive, that’s quite a bit of spending money. In Venice we both got free entry to the Doge’s Palace, no small saving, I think it saved us around €17 each! Mr Fluskey is goes as my carer and that can get us a nice by one get one free deal. This is especially true when we are going to the theatre. Look out Broadway, here we come!
Not being able to see things until they are much closer means I am often the last to experience something that we are walking up to. At the Taj Mahal, I was blown away by the detail that I couldn’t see until I was right up close. Read about it all here.
Being disabled can have a nice ring of VIP to it. I could have assistance through an airport, and take advantage of priority boarding. I can also enter a theatre first when the seats are unallocated. It’s front row or bust! There’s not always a reason to cheer for my disability, but this always makes me feel just a little bit chuffed.
Tall Buildings and Views
Oh the boredom of tall buildings! I can only see a small amount. I mean, it’s all rather far away. People point out interesting things in the distance and I just smile, nod and make excited “mmm” noises. After ten minutes, I have exhausted my field of vision but other people can stay up there for another ten to twenty minutes.
It’s the same when we visit lovely view points. Looking out across Sorrento’s bay was stunning but there are other times that I have stood and stared into a blurry distance pretending to look interested. I was genuinely gutted when we got to Dora Observation Point in South Korea’s DMZ. Even with the binoculars, I couldn’t see any of the exciting spots over in North Korea that other people were enthusiastically pointing out to each other. I felt a bit hard done by. Is that lame?
They tell me that exciting things are over there somewhere….!?
I also spent the ten minutes after my time in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel looking at a poster of the famous ceiling, just so I could join in the conversation about how nice it was.
I love Rough Guides but recently I’ve noticed that my eyesight has declined to the point that I am struggling with the font. It’s bad enough to leave me with a little headache if I read too much. I also need to stand still and find bright light to make out the words.
I’ve tried downloading them onto my tablet and phone but the inability to flick between pages is infuriating. I think I may be at the point that I have to invest in a good magnifying glass but if I am totally honest, that dents my pride just a tiny bit.
I dread to think how many times I have skirted around the edge of a restaurant walls trying to locate the bathroom, or how many times I have found myself in the kitchen by mistake! I enquire where the bathroom is and walk slowly and uncertainly in the direction they have pointed hoping and praying that I am not making a beeline for the gents.
Several times I have asked people for directions. They start by saying “you see where the white fence ends” and unable to see it, I just nod, committing every word to memory. “Turn the corner and you’ll see a green sign”. I turn the corner and see no such thing. Thirty metres in what I hope is the right direction, a green sign finally materialises. And so on. It’s a stressful business.
Thank goodness I have a performing arts degree. The amount of times I had to mime smashing my glasses in Asia!! People are super curious to know why I seem to be smelling a book that I am in fact reading. It was just so much easier to pretend I had broken my specs. I pretended that I had st on them and then shrugged as if to say “what can you do!?”
People at home are just as curious. At work I am asked time and time again, several times a day, where my glasses are. I am also told that I need glasses on a daily basis. It gets mentally draining sometimes. Weirdly I don’t mind doing my silly mime routine as much as mind dealing with these people who lack a certain tact.
I do worry that one day, I will walk myself into danger. Walking home at night, I could quite easily walk myself into a dodgy situation and not realise until it was too late.
Then there is the chance that I might walk myself off a cliff…No joke! I am genuinely a bit scared to go skiing just in case I slide myself off the run and into the white abyss beyond. I know that you can hire a guide and follow in their path exactly but I have always thought that:
- My competitive nature would get the better of me and I would end up trying to race them.
- I tend to get carried away when I get the hang of something I might get distracted by my own (perceived) awesomeness and lose track of where my guide was.
- I like to be an independent lady and following someone would get on my nerves a little after a while.
I am well aware that there are more cons there than pros but you know what? I haven’t stopped travelling. I haven’t let it stop me doing anything really…not consciously anyway. Maybe the skiing thing has got the better of me, but I’m sure I’ll get round to it. It is possible that the idea of being cold all day has more of an impact than my disability in my decision to go for a Asian beach break instead.
I have felt down about my visual impairment before, on several occasions it has left me a sobbing mess, but those times are few and far between. Most of the time I just get on with it. Don’t we all!? Travelling with a disability can be more tricky, but we make it happen because it’s worth the effort. I guess what I’m saying is “there’s a whole world out there, go and see it…even if it’s all a little bit blurry”.