Happy days!!!

I’ve been travelling for the last seven years, in between studying. However, those days might slowly be coming to an end, or at least changing. I’ve been grunting the world; climbing mountains in Canada, hiking trails in South Africa, jumping off bridges in New Zealand, falling out of planes in Australia, and bussing all over America, to mention just a few things.

My blindness has not stopped me, my deafness has failed to prevent this and for the most part my kidney disease has caused no hindrance. Now that could all change. I need a kidney transplant or I will go onto dialysis. If I get a kidney dona immediately, then I could avoid dialysis and be travelling again within a year of the transplant. Dialysis would change the nature of my journeys. backpacking in remote places and territories would be a no go!!!

I first heard about this problem in October 2001 at the start of my five month trip around the southern hemisphere. I finished university and return to my parents in Weston-super-Mare where I had a general medical with a new doctor. It was just a check up; something you do each time you change doctors. My blood pressure was discovered to be rather high. further tests were gradually undertaken and the day I landed in Melbourne, Australia, it was discovered that something was very wrong with my kidneys. I got an email from my Mum telling me ‘You are very ill, have something wrong with your kidneys. Go and check into a hospital. You could die! Love Mum.’ I thought great, what a start to my trip. Naturally I found a hospital after getting rather drunk I should say. Tests were taken and eventually after undergoing a kidney biopsy, it was discovered that my kidneys were severely damaged and my blood pressure was extremely dangerously high. I was put on medication to try and control the blood pressure, told to watch my drinking and continued travelling. I had planned to go back packing around Vietnam for a month but this new development to my health changed this idea. I had longer in New Zealand instead and only a week in Vietnam. All this is in the first book. Therefore, I won’t go into more details.

Once back in England, five months later, I saw a specialist who told me I had roughly three years to live if I did not quit drinking and also if I refused treatment. Obviously, I did both and fives years on I am still sober, but my kidneys have decreased from approximately 38% in March 2002 to around 17-15% in October 2007. I have felt no ill effects except perhaps I feel slightly more tired these days. I travelled around the world in 2004-05 and the only problem I had was some diarrhoea in Southern Africa. I was told the main problem I would have with this kidney condition was getting food poisoning as my body would not be able to take the sudden loss of fluid and my kidneys would go into shock. I would need dialysis immediately – something that is more difficult to get in the developing world. It is near impossible in the bush, jungle or outback.

So you can see it is a potential problem. this has never happened and I have managed to control my blood pressure up until now. I have my own blood pressure machine with speech, it is portable. However, my kidneys have continued to slowly decline. I am now getting to the stage where decisions have to be made and a dona found. A live dona would be the best. for a dona a blood type match is necessary: I am O positive, so the dona would also need to be this blood type. Then that person needs to be basically healthy and not on any medication. Then there has to be what is called a tissue match. I know little about this, but basically under a number of tests the match has to be three out of six tissue matches for a transplant to go ahead. A live dona is the best because it can be done within a year and at mine and the dona’s convenience. Where as a dead dona that comes from a person in a road accident, or some other illness or injury is subject to permission from the dead person’s family. Plus, a tissue match, getting me to the hospital in time and keeping that organ alive. This process is more complex and harder to find a match. After several tests to my body which take about six months, I go on the kidney transplant register. In the mean time my kidneys might transgress to around 10% and I will require dialysis to do the work of my kidneys. This could mean going into hospital three times a week for four hours and being hooked up to a dialysis machine, or I could have a tube put into my abdomen and control it myself and self-regulate. I could do it four times a day with bags of fluid or every night on a smaller machine. You can see at once how dialysis will restrict my movements. The bags of fluid I use myself contain 2 litres (4 pints) of fluid, heavy to carry around. The machine I could use at night again is heavy and it requires bags containing 5 litres (10 pints) of fluid. On this machine I use at night it would mean I could do things in the day, go on day trips and as long as I am home at night and get around nine hours on the machine, it would be fine. I could fly to America, or Europe and take the machine with me. the fluid would be sent to the place where I am residing. On a longer flight to say Australia, I could use the smaller bags on board the plane. However, it will mean planning my destinations months in advance, obtaining extra health insurance, something I have not used on my last few journeys and probably have to stay in hotels or take private rooms in hostels. It would be very difficult to go from places to places city to city unless I plan each stop and get the fluid in advance. I can have stocks of fluid bags at my house and say at a favourite friends or my parents, so I can go visit. I can take my own machine or I can resort to self-regulation four times a day. However, that method means I would have to plan each day around my dialysis. I do not know how dialysis will affect me, it might make me more tired , it might have no affect on my body at all. It is designed to clean my body of toxins.

I am at present planning as many small trips as possible ready for the day when I can no longer travel as before. It might not happen, it might be a short gap in between having a transplant but I just don’t know. I have to be prepared to wait many years for a transplant. Even if I have a kidney transplant and it is successful and I do not reject the organ, I will still need several more transplants throughout my life. I am only 29 and a transplanted kidney has an average life span of nine years according to the experts. Therefore if this is the case then I would require another kidney at around the age of forty or so etc.

All this is a scary prospect, it has come sooner than my family and I expected. My next trip was going to be around India: that is at present on hold, I still intend to go to Australia next year, but the date keeps changing . I have one possible dona at present but the more options I have the better. The person who has offered might not be able to give after all the tests, he might only have one kidney – which is all anybody needs to live on. The tissue match might not be enough and I might reject the organ after transplantation. It is a complicated story, there are not enough live or dead donas. It is not easy asking a family membor or a friend if they would consider offering a kidney. Most people think what will happen to me? How involved will I have to be? Can I live with only one kidney? How much of my time will it involve? What is the operation like? How long will it take? Will I feel ill during or after? What happens if I get kidney problems later on? And many other concerns. It takes a special person to want to give a kidney to someone who needs one. You are giving someone else life by offering.

If I get a kidney and it functions satisfactorally, then I will be able to re-commence my travels as before, if I need dialysis and it is almost certain that I will, then I will have to travel in a different, more conservative way. However, I will not stop living and visiting countries. I will have to plan much more in advance and it will cost a lot more, but it can be done, I have to try it if nothing else.

I tell you this story to explain a little more about this website, my challenge, my victories and my inspiration. I have another challenge to overcome; so do many other people in the world, some with a kidney condition similar to mine. some people have far worse disabilities some have less. We all have battles of our own. I just say and highlight that anything can be tackled if we try, have some help and want too. At present I am feeling sad and disappointed, unsure of the next step and already fed-up of waiting. It will be a long personal war, and the first battle has commenced, but I will survive it and win the war. Wishing everybody out there on the road or wherever, what ever battle they are fighting, literal or personal, visible or not, the best of luck. Tony Giles travel extraordinaire.

Interview for the Sunday paper The People

The story below, is the basic outline of an interview I did for the Sunday News paper The People. The full story comes out in print on Sunday September 30th 2007 in their inside magazine. Check this story out and do a search online for Tony Giles for similar stories and articles.

The Sunday People
Deborah Doherty, Features Editor, Take it Easy Magazine.
Original journalist, Catherine Jones. South West news Services, Bristol.

Tony Giles’ Story:

Feeling the warm sun on my skin, I soaked up the unfamiliar smells and sounds around me. I’d come to America on a university exchange programme and had flown to New Orleans for a week’s holiday. It was the first time I’d travelled alone and I was loving every minute of it. Clutching my white stick, I couldn’t help but smile. I may not have been able to see New Orleans like everyone else, but every one of my senses was on overdrive, creating the perfect picture in my mind.

You see, I was born blind and have 80% deafness in both ears. But I’ve never let that stop me. I had one of the best weeks of my life in New Orleans – the travel bug had bitten me hard!

Back home, I couldn’t wait to plan my next trip. And it was an ambitious one. A backpacking trip around Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam and Thailand, lasting five months.

I sat my parents down. “You’ve always encouraged me to be independent,” I told them. “I really want to do this.” Of course they were worried, but they supported my decision.

“We’ll help you plan every last detail,” they told me. Together, we planned my route with the help of a Braille map. We even booked every hostel. “I can’t wait,” I told them.

Soon the day had come. “Be careful,” Mum said, kissing me goodbye.

The trip was fantastic – everything I’d dreamed of and more. And my blindness didn’t stop me doing anything. I white-water rafted, went on jetboats and even bungee-jumped off bridges.

One of my biggest challenges was doing a sky-dive. When the time came, I stood on the edge of the plane without being able to see a thing. As I fell, my body felt like it was exploding – it was better than sex!

I couldn’t see my instructor pulling the parachute and as I was jerked upwards I couldn’t breathe. But when I got my breath back it was exhilarating. I went twice more in other countries!

Back home, I was full of all the beautiful places I’d experienced. “How can you tell they were beautiful?” someone asked me. “For somebody who can’t see, beauty has a lot to do with what you smell and feel,” I explained. “I’ve learned to use all the senses of my body: my nerves, my touch, my sense of smell.”

Even though I’ve lost 80% of my hearing, what I have left is acute. I’ve trained it to be like that. I realised I could tell a lot about a place from the sound of the sea or the feel of the wind. If I go up a mountain I can feel the air squeeze. If I’m in a town, the energy and the space changes.

Since that first trip, I’ve been all over the place – Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Cuba, Mexico, Mozambique and South Africa to name a few. In total, I’ve visited 32 countries and every one of America’s 50 states.

I’ve had some amazing experiences from climbing mountains, hang-gliding and visiting ancient ruins to sailing, hiking and visiting African tribes. Because I grew up near the sea in Weston-super-Mare, I loved countries like New Zealand and Cuba where I could stand and feel the water in front of me.

But it’s not always easy. Crossing the road in countries like Thailand and Vietnam is particularly dangerous when you’re blind because the traffic never stops. I also have to rely on people a lot for directions which can prove hard with the language barrier.

One other thing that worries me is changing buses and not knowing whether my backpack has been transferred with me. I also found the water and steps of Venice and the cobbled streets of Prague quite difficult to negotiate too!

Once, while camping in Canada, I couldn’t find my tent. I wandered around the campsite prodding the ground with my white stick but I couldn’t find it anywhere. Then it dawned on me – the tent and all my belongings had been stolen. Close to tears, I hitched a lift to the local Salvation Army and they looked after me.

Funnily enough, I also had one of my best travel moments in Canada too. I finally made it to the Hudson Bay – the start of the Arctic Ocean. That meant that, under my own steam, I’d put my feet in every ocean of the world!

Looking back, my funniest moment was stumbling into a row of surfboards on a beach in Hawaii. They fell over like a set of dominoes!

One of the best things about travelling are the friends I’ve made and the people I’ve met. I’ve been guided everywhere since I was a kid and I’ve got used to trusting people. Time and time again, people restore my faith in human nature.

Now, I’ve written a book about my travels called “Seeing the World My Way” and am looking for a publisher. I’d love to be an author of travel books one day.

I’m currently planning trips to Iceland, Southern Europe and Australia. The world’s a fantastic place and I’m determined to experience as much of it as I can.

*For more information on Tony’s travels, log onto www.tonythetraveller.com

Scottish Trip

I am a young, totally blind and partially deaf traveller. I have spent many years exploring the world alone with only the generosity of the public and my cane for guidance. This is my story of a few delightful days backpacking in Scotland.

I set off from my home in Erdington, Birmingham on the morning of Saturday 1st September and headed north. I walk everywhere and only take public transport when the distance is too far. The fact that I do not know where I am going or where I am headed does not worry me – it never has. The specialist training I received at educational institutes gave me all the skills I needed to travel independently.

Once on board the train, after arranging assistance at the various stops along my route, I settled back and enjoyed the journey – feeling the jolts and bumps of the locomotive as it rushed along the track at high speed.

My first destination was Sterling, central Scotland. My reason for visiting was simple; I wanted to see what was there! After changing trains in Manchester, Lancaster and Edinburgh, I walked to my accommodation. When I am travelling abroad, I tend to do some research on that country, but with Scotland, I knew there would be plenty of history and entertainment, so I just asked what attractions were available once there. I also book my accommodation before travelling, depending on the season and the popularity of the destination. Sterling is an historical University city and although it was the end of the tourist season, it was still bound to be busy. As I was arriving at night, I did not want to take a chance of there being no available lodgings, so I booked in advance.

I stay in hostels wherever possible and Scotland was no exception. I love hostelling, the shared accommodation is cheap and it is a great way to meet people from all backgrounds and nationalities. Finding a hostel when you cannot see can be tricky, but I just ask for directions, or get a taxi if it seems far or a difficult location.

I was fortunate in Sterling as the hostel was close and the railway staff offered to walk me there. This is the kind of generosity I received throughout my Scottish adventure.

The hostel was a simple affair, a small building with four flights of stairs. There was a small reception, lounge and kitchen with the dorm rooms next door. The place had more doors than Fort Knox! I was checked in by a Polish girl and shown to my bunk bed. Then I obtained directions to the town centre and headed off to find some entertainment and get a drink.

Sterling’s town centre, which is situated on one of its many hills, was full of bars, clubs and take-away food outlets and created a vibrant atmosphere. The air was cool and the night buzzed with young, excited people enjoying their Saturday evening. I entered the first pub I found, located the bar and ordered a large lemonade before finding a table and checking out the environment. It was a fun pub, large and full of young people, so the music was loud and the place was lively. After one drink there, I moved on to a bar called O’Neil’s that was recommended to me by a local. On the street, I got directions to the bar and a Scottish girl kindly showed me the way. Inside, I found the bar and pushed my way through the crowd and asked a guy next to me to get the bar staff’s attention. Someone touched my hand and I ordered my usual. I fell into conversation with a couple of Scottish guys and was soon well away. One guy described the layout of the bar, told me the route to the toilets and described the girls who were plentiful. I later chatted with two girls, one Scottish the other German. We had drinks together and swapped stories until closing time, which was around 1.30 am, and then they walked me back to my hostel.

The next morning, Sunday, I explored Sterling’s many historical sights. A tour-bus visits the various attractions from which you can alight and re-board at your leisure. The ticket cost £7.50 and is valid for two days. It is an open topped double-decker bus with historical commentary. The commentary, while informative, was not always easy to understand or hear due to the noise from the bus’s engine. I was told I could get the tour-bus outside my hostel, but after waiting for half an hour, I returned to the hostel and asked a member of staff to walk me to the train station where I found a bus waiting.

I travelled round for forty minutes listening to the history of Sterling, which goes back several hundred years before Christ. The main attractions are the William Wallace Monument, the Old Town Jail, the Church of the Holy Rude, Sterling Castle and the Bannockburn Herotige Centre. I was heading for the castle, Sterling’s main attraction.

It was set on a large, steep hill and stood splendid for all to see, or in my case, find. The bus dropped me off within a minute’s walk and I just followed the upward gradient until I hit the castle entrance. Several people saw me and guided me through to the entrance kiosk. My bus ticket gave me a discount and I bought an audio guide. Together they cost just under £10. After getting the audio guide and instructions on how to use the headphones, I set off around the twelfth century fortress. Getting in and wandering around was relatively easy, even without sight. Again, I used the upward gradient of the hill and the echo of buildings to judge when I got close to the castle walls. I asked other tourists when I was unsure which exhibit I was at, or for the directions I wanted. Each area had a number and was described on the audio guide, which you followed by listening to the commands. The audio guide was excellent and well worth the extra £3 cost.

I began with the entrance, I listened to the guide and felt the thick, stone walls, their rough texture and thickness was fascinating. I followed the uneven, narrow, cobbled path up into the main part of the castle. There was an outer and inner courtyard; the main buildings surrounded the latter. This consisted of the Great Hall, where the Royal family would enter for parties and banquets, the Chapple Royal where baptisms’ took place, The King’s Old Buildings, now a museum to the Southern Highland military regiment, and the Royal palace where the Stewart Royal family of the day resided, and Mary Queen of Scots lived there on occasions. The palace was the largest of the four buildings and the last to be built, with individual rooms for both the king and queen. There were waiting rooms for courtiers and guests. Walking around it as I did, I could feel the vastness of the buildings, both the Great Hall and the church were enormous. However, almost all the rooms were now empty. The audio guide talked a lot about the visual attractions of the buildings, describing the renaissance style of certain windows and in the case of the palace, many carved statues in the walls. It was spectacular. However, much of it was lost on me due to its visual impression. I was able to appreciate the size of everything, the age and roughness of the materials, not to mention the unevenness under foot.

After my audio tour, I wandered around some of the open grounds, using my cane to follow the walls. This led me to an open area with grass and several steps up onto the ramparts. The area was very open and gave me a sense of the height of the castle and the openness below onto the city. On my way back, I encountered a couple of cannons, no doubt used to protect the castle from invasion, the same reason for it being built up high. I returned my audio headset and went off in search of a pub that had been recommended to me and was near the castle. The cool, damp weather was by now even getting to my tough skin.

After a bite to eat in the pub, I wandered down the steep hill to the fourteenth century Old Town Jail. I took a guided tour for £5.30. One of the managers, a delightful local lady, offered to help me round as a group of us followed the guide. We were informed of prison life in the early-middle nineteenth century. I felt a dog collar made from iron, a branding iron, which was a long metal bar with a sharp point, which when hot would leave a mark on the person’s skin, and I felt a very thick hanging rope. The place felt cold and the cells were rough. Prison life was harsh and only changed towards the latter part of the nineteenth century. The jail was used by the Scottish military in the early twentieth century before it was eventually closed. The prison had been transformed into a museum in the last ten years and had cost over £2 million to restore.

After my tour of the jail, I intended to catch the tour-bus back to the town. However, at the place I waited, it decided not to stop! I headed downhill as the wind began to pick up and the light began to fade. I just followed the downwards gradient believing this would eventually bring me back into the centre, which it did. I asked people directions to a pub where I had dinner and then more directions to the hostel, where I spent a relaxing evening chatting with other guests, who were mostly German and Polish. The next day I took the train to Glasgow and then up the west coast to Fort William to experience more Scottish culture.

The journey from Sterling to Fort William was fascinating, especially from Glasgow onwards. It was a single line track and the small train rattled along at a terrific rate. We went through tunnels, over viaducts and up several inclines. I was able to feel it all, the rattle of the wheels on the track, the ascent and descent of the train, the rush and rattle over the various parts of the route and the echo of the tunnels. The weather was sunny and warm and this added to the enjoyment of the five-hour journey. I arrived in Fort William in the early evening and got a taxi to the hostel, as I was unsure of how to cross the main highway between my destination and the train station. After a three-minute taxi ride, I was deposited at a country house on a steep hill – I had arrived.

I was in the countryside and the house/hostel was quiet and almost empty. I found the receptionist, this time a delightful girl from the Czech Republic, and settled in. I was shown to a crowded upstairs dorm and given directions to the town below. I just followed the hill’s slope and as soon as I heard traffic on the main road, I turned left and followed this until I found a crossing. With help, I reached the pedestrianised high street. This was almost completely dead, and a total contrast to the liveliness of Sterling. The few pubs were almost empty even though the weather was gorgeous.

I wandered around in the hot sun before having a couple of drinks in a local bar that belonged to the army volunteers of the First World War. I wandered on to find my dinner, and in an upstairs pub, I tried Haggis and the local Haddock. I then went back to find the hill and my hostel. I got lost and met an English couple who were on their honeymoon; they gave me a lift, which was fantastic. I spent the evening in the cosy, homely hostel, drinking free tea and relaxed by the log fire in the lounge, and talked to anyone who was around. The hostel had an international flavour with South Africans, Germans, a Canadian and some Scots, who appeared later. It had a gentle atmosphere with the crackle of the fire and the smell of wine – a truly relaxed environment to spend an evening.

The next morning I asked what Fort William had to offer and was told its main attractions were Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest mountain, Glen Nevis, an area with several beautiful walks, a river, a waterfall and the canal. However, all these and the many other mountain trails were a good walk away. I set off in the vague direction of Ben Nevis, unsure of what I would find. However, the weather changed and when the heavy drizzle moved in, I turned around and headed to the train station and went to the fishing village of Mallaig, only a hour and a half away. Again, I was treated to a bumpy, rattling, single line railway track with hills and bridges.

We wandered along the scenic coast before pulling into Mallaig, which was at the end of the line. I had the scenery described to me and it was fantastic. I love the sea and everything to do with that environment. I took a quick walk around the tiny village, first exploring the fishing port, which was the main attraction. There was little in the way of interest, so I quickly gave up exploring and went in search of food and a drink. I had several hours to spare there if I desired, but as the rain became heavier, I decided to return to Mallaig and wait for the evening sleeper train back to England.

That Tuesday evening, after four delightful days in Scotland’s central region and highlands, with its friendly people who approached me and talked to me without any embarrassment, I headed back to Birmingham. The sleeper train took me as far as Crewe where, with assistance, I caught the 5.40 am train back to Birmingham. I was home and in bed by 7.30 am, the end of another magnificent solo journey through history, nature, culture and hospitality and all seen through the eyes of a blind traveller. I put my small backpack away, ready for the next time it would be needed.

10th September 2007

For any known publishers

The following information is for any publisher who might read this website or for anybody who knows a publisher or agent of that industry. I need a publisher as this amazing story needs to be told.

Book Synopsis
Seeing The World My Way by Tony Giles. This is a travel biography about a totally blind and partially deaf young man’s global adventures, describing his observations and experiences of countries explored by using different senses.

The book describes journeys through the United States of America, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand and Vietnam, on a search for wild adventures and natural wonders. Some of this is found as the narrative unfolds and the author undertakes crazy sports combined with heavy consumptions of alcohol.

The account aims to capture both a unique sense of travel and exploration while also providing an historical flavour and geographical setting to each country.

Finally, it is the interaction with the people, both natives and fellow travellers, intertwined with the many activities that is the core of the narrative.

The work is approximately 250 pages long on A4 paper (double-spaced). There are 11 chapters with a prologue and epilogue.

There are also four appendices and a bibliography.

I, Tony Giles, the author of this work, would appreciate any feedback and comments you wish to make. I am totally blind and this is my first written work, therefore your critique would be welcome.

Travelling; how and why.

So now you have read a little about my travelling. The questions everyone want’s to know is why would a blind person want to go travelling? How is it done, especially alone?

The answer to why is simple, why not!

I go travelling for more or less the same reason other young hearty souls go travelling. Its for the sense of adventure, escapism from the social stuffiness of conventional life, the trappings of responsibility, a challenge and for learning.

Travelling allows me to experience the world in a multitude of ways. It enables me to obtain a great global education that books only hint at. Eating foreign foods, hearing new music, feeling the contours and gradients of countries, places, mountains, valleys rivers etc, etc cannot really be achieved at home or the study environment – you have to travel to experience life.

Whether it be bungee jumping with the natives of New Zealand or walking through an African village with the smell of dung in the air, flies all about and extreme heat to struggle with – is just part of what makes travelling for me, a blind person, fantastic. I use the remaining senses I have to gain a greater experience and understanding of the world. I am very fortunate.

How do I do it?

I went to a boarding school for the visually impaired and blind when aged ten. There I learnt braille in order to study and mobility in order to be mobile. I was taught how to use a white long cane to detect objects in my path. I use the cane to get up and down stairs and find pavement curbs. I use my cane to find good places to cross roads and my hearing to know when a road is clear. I learnt to train all my senses together which has enabled me to live a full and functional life. I had a good brain to begin with and have always been alert. the extra training enhanced these skills and coupled with an outstanding memory, this has given me the ability to travel. I first put these skills to use to travel up and down Britain on the trains. I would get to a train station by walking, having learnt the route, or by bus. If by bus I would ask the driver or passengers for the stop I want and get them to tell me when I was there. I would then enter the station and ask staff to assist me onto the train. if noone was around, I would listen for the anouncement of the train and when it stopped walk towards the sound with my cane out in frunt of me and sweep it along the train until I find a door. these days with more automatic trains it is easier. There is usually some people around to help and when travelling, the public come to be very helpful.

I am lucky to live in the UK, especially whilst being disabled. There is the support for a variety of needs, including getting equipment such as canes and liquid level indicaters. There are guide dogs, computer equipment with speach and good support for this, cooking gagits, games and a variety of other tools and apparators to enable a blind person to live independently.

I had a fantastic education and coupled with being able to listen to talking books from a young age helped in my development towards independence. Without the education which at times was one to one, I would not be able to travel. I use my brain instead of my sight. I have to work out how to solve problems, get from place to place without the aid of a map, compass guide books etc. I rely on the kindness and generosity of the local public and fellow travellers more than most. However, I have the attitude and atribute to want to travel, be personable, approachable and understand now at least, that we all need help. I give other people a different insight to the world as I experience it and vice versa.

When I was at school, we had tactile globes and braille maps to play with, these fascinated me for hours. they gave me and my imagination hours of fun and exploration. I discovered an interest for geography and history early on. My father had travelled and had been around at the end of World War II. he filled me with travel and history, especially about the sea and the navy. Being blind you need an imagination because you have no object to focus on, this is a blessing in many ways because it gives your brain less bariers, especially when you are young. Everything is possible then, it is an attitude I have maintained throughout much of my life.

The braille maps are made from different textures, with the landmass raised, the rivers indented lines and the oceans and sea smoover material. Large raised dots mark the major towns and cities with braille abrieviations next to the dot in question. an accompanying guide book explains the abrieviations. I have maps of all the continents except Africa. My Mum has made this one with a special glue that marks the borders of each country in a tactile line.

Before I travel anywhere I have to do extensive research, this differs depending on the country-continent I am visiting. I was given money for a computer and scanner with speach reading softwear. This has enabled me to study at a high level and do research to travel.

The computer is a normal desktop with the F and J keys marked with small lips, most key boards have this. The softwear reads everything on the screne, i type a letter, it talks. I move one of the arrow keys, it says the letter, word or sentence depending on the key stroke. It is a standard desktop computer but with specialist speach softwear, which is rather expensive. My current speach softwear is called Jaws. It can read emails and even works with the internet to varying degrees. The scanner which is the essential tool for research is fantastic. It is a normal desktop scanner with a long flat lid. It has a speach softwear called Kirtzwell. I have the scanner attached to the same computer with the scanning softwear on the hard drive. I just change programmes when I wish to use it. I scan in a book, having had someone mark up the pages or chapters with paper clips, then once the book is on the computer I get the speach softwear to read it to me.

The only help I need is the relevant information marked up as mentioned. Without the scanner I could have not have been as successful at university and doing a master degree in a history based subject with the volume of reading required would have been near impossible. The acodemic material is just not available in braille or talking book. I did American Studies as an undergraduate degree and US Foreign Policy as a Masters.

My local education authority payed for my equipment and I am both very lucky and most grateful. Without this equipment my life would not nearly be so independent. incidentally, I can read almost all printed material on the scanner including the majority of my mail.

At present I use the Lonely Planet guides or Rough guide books for most of my research on travelling. I also consult my maps and my family help with references for country locations and other useful information. My Mum does a lot of my research with me and without her help and support none of my trips could have been undertaken. It is combinations that allow me as a blind person with a hearing difficulty to travel successfully. The equipment I have enables me to research, to know what equipment I need , currencies to take, possible innoculations and a host of other information necessary for me to explore and move about a country with relative ease. My family, especially my Mum, give me the support I require to travel, noing that they are there if a problem with a credit card occurs, or I get ill and need to return home. I have a base to return too when the shit hits the fan! Having the knowledge puts a whole different spin on the nature of my journeying. the family support in many ways gives me more confidence in myself. I have the education as I have already said, which without I could not contemplate travelling. finally, there is both the desire to travel and the ability to engage with the public in a variety of ways, which has added and enriched my adventures immensely. Without the public and fellow travellers I could not journey so successfully.