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Biography

I was born, Anthony Eric Giles, in the seaside town of Weston-Super-Mare, south-west England, on 6th September 1978.

I was about 9 months old when a problem was discovered with my sight. It was eventually realised through an ophthalmologist that I had a rare genetic visual impairment.

I was born with Cone Dystrophy and Photo Phobia. This means I have no colour nerves in the back of my eye, greatly exposing my optic nerve to light. Hence, my Photo Phobia (light sensitivity).

I spent my first few years of life living in darkness whenever possible. I was eventually given dark glasses, which I wore indoors and outside until about
the age of 17 or 18.

I played in the street with my non-disabled friends, learning to listen for traffic. My street was a cul-de-sac and I knew the traffic came from one direction.

I attended a day school for the disabled in Bristol from the age of five. This was a journey of 20 miles (30 kilometres) in a taxi – I was often car sick.

By using my light sensitivity, I learnt to read and write. I could see large black lines on white paper. I learnt the alphabet and numeracy. I also could play snooker by detecting the different balls through shade. I had my rods, the nerve cells to help me see black and white images and shade. However, by the age of 9 or 10, this light vision was beginning to lessen.

My eye condition has never changed, but my pain threshold became stronger, and my light sensitivity lessened as print got smaller and more complex. I stopped using my lenses as it became harder to view objects.

By the age of 10, I had stopped learning and needed a new medium to continue my education.

When aged about six, it was discovered that I was partially deaf in both ears. This appears to be from a related genetic condition. I was given analogue hearing aids. My hearing has become progressively worse over the years. At present, I am about 75-80% deaf without my hearing aids. I now wear digital aids, which are fantastic.

In the Spring of 1989, I was sent to the boarding school for the blind and visually impaired in Coventry. I was aged 10 and a half; it changed my life and this is where I eventually gained my independence.

I spent six years at Exhall Grange School in Coventry in the West Midlands. I was given mobility training, whereby I learnt how to use a long cane, catch public transport, and find locations. I received fantastic training. I also learnt Braille: the blind person’s method of reading and writing through a series of six dots in two vertical lines of three. These six dots in different combinations create the entire alphabet and numbers. I used it up to A-Level mathematics.

I engaged in all subjects, from pottery to swimming, chemistry to athletics, as well as the usual academic subjects.

I took my GCSE exams in the Summer of 1995 (GCSE are exams taken at the end of high/secondary school in England, at about the age of 15-16). I pass the majority of my subjects with a C grade and gained a B in Information Technology. I failed my English and Maths.

I next went to the Royal National College for the Blind in Hereford to undertake my A-Levels. Academic studies to enable me to enter university if I chose.

I had wanted to become a physiotherapist, but was informed that having a dual disability would prevent me from pursuing this career.

At boarding school in Coventry, I had been exposed to children with different disabilities. This gave me a sense that being blind and partially deaf was not the worst disability in life. Some of my friends had walking difficulties, speech impairments, asthma, seizures and a variety of other conditions. I considered myself lucky. My best friend had Muscular Dystrophy, a muscle wasting disease and was slowly dying. This had a significant impact on me. He died just as I began my courses at RNC Hereford, October 1995. My Dad had died of old age only two months previously and I found myself in a strange place, without friends, alone and full of grief. I eventually turned towards alcohol and studies as a refuge.

I re-took my GCSE English and maths and passed them successfully. I also took A-Level history in my first and second year. I also studied A-level maths and biology in my second and third year. I passed all three A-Level subjects, gaining a C in history and D’s in biology and mathematics.

I wanted to study eighteenth-nineteenth century British History as a degree but could not find a suitable course. A history tutor suggested American Studies to me and after researching the subject, I decided to apply.

I was accepted onto a course at my second choice university in Northampton and went off to study and learn about life for three years in the East Midlands.

I knew something of America before I began my degree, having been on a school trip to Boston, Massachusetts as a 16 year old in 1995. I also visited New York and Washington DC with a disabled friend in August 1998 just before I began my university course.

I was given the chance to study in South Carolina through my American Studies Degree and went to Coastal Carolina University, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina in January 2000. I spent four months in the South, learning about American culture and life before going travelling around California with a fellow student from Australia. I also visited New Orleans and Hawaii during that trip.

I attended University College Northampton, 1998-2001, gaining a 2:1 Degree with Honours in American Studies.

I did not attend a university for the blind: none exists. I went to class with other students, most who were none-disabled. I was given money from my Local Education Authority to purchase equipment with speech in order for me to write my essays and read handouts and books. Academic texts are extremely difficult to obtain in Braille, and to bulky to read.

I can touch type without speech, but having software that reads everything I type and the entire screen if I command it makes studying much easier. I employed fellow students to help me research books, find quotations and correct my spelling and grammar.

I have a scanner with speech, which allows me to read any typed text including my post (mail). This vital piece of equipment enabled me to function at university at the same level as sighted students. I had to scan the books myself and then listen to the entire text. This took twice as long as a student reading with sight, but it made me more determined to learn.

Between October 2001-March 2002 I travelled around part of the southern hemisphere. I backpacked unaided around Australia, New Zealand, part of southern Vietnam and Thailand.

It was during this trip that I was diagnosed with high blood pressure and kidney disease. It is a condition that gradually deteriorated. In December 2008 I underwent a kidney transplant operation after receiving a live kidney from my Step Dad. The operation for both parties was successful and after a recovery period of about three months I was back to travelling in the UK and went abroad after seven months. My kidney function dropped to just under 11% before my operation, and I missed dialysis (artificial kidney function by machine) by about a month.

It is still unknown why I have this condition, it could be genetic, but the doctors are still unsure.

At the end of my trip in 2002, I stopped drinking alcohol altogether and with help from some close friends became clean. I was on the verge of becoming a full alcoholic. I have been clean since September 2002.

In October 2002 I began a one year masters degree in Transatlantic Studies (History of US Foreign Policy) at University of Birmingham, England. I graduated in December 2003.

In January 2004 I undertook an epic backpacking solo world journey; visiting parts of South and North America, Mexico, Cuba, and most of Southern Africa. During this year-long journey, I ventured to the most southern part of the South American Continent. I also undertook my first solo hike in the Rocky Mountains, Canada and put my feet in the Arctic Ocean.

In February 2005, I rented my first flat in Erdington, Birmingham and began writing my first travel book.

Between June-October 2005 I visited several European countries most notably Italy and Germany. Between 2006-2008 I revisited the US and Canada, travelling to the remaining US States and Canadian Provinces. I have now travelled to all 50 US States and visited all 10 of Canada’s Provinces.

In mid-February 2008 I crossed the Arctic Circle by boat up the coast of Norway.

To date, I have visited over 50 countries, totally blind and partially deaf.

I have bungee jumped 12 times and sky dived 3 times.

At present I live in Teignmouth, Devon, by the sea.

My family consists of my Mum and Step-Dad and one Sister eight years older and one Brother six years older. I have two young nieces from my Brother. None of my family are disabled in any way.

My hobbies include, playing the drums, listening to late 1960s rock music, listening to sport, such as football and international cricket, reading historical fiction, walking, sailing and attending rock concerts.

My favourite authors include Stephen King, Colin Forbes, Thomas Harris, Ian Rankin, Jack Higgins and Alistair MacLean.

My football (soccer) team is Liverpool.

I enjoy most foods except salad! My favourite foods are pork sausages and chocolate.

Black is my preferred choice of colour.

My favourite singer-songwriter is Bob Dylan.

My favourite band is Led Zeppelin.

I hope to travel for the rest of my life.

My aims are to get to Antarctica, travel across Russia, go to India and the Himalayas, backpack more of Central-South America and visit Japan and Indonesia.

My other ambition is to publish my travel books and write and publish some fiction.

My biggest passion is travelling and hostelling.