I’m a 52-year-old blind man, and I’ve used a guide dog for 33 years. I’ve travelled a lot, independently and with my dog or other people. I’ve been to Toronto, because my sister lived there and I have friends all over southern Ontario. It’s the only place where I would travel alone, because I know it so well. For travel to be really enjoyable, the ability to be independent is the most important thing.
The US and Canada are really good options for blind people, because the infrastructure is there, the built environment is easy to navigate – the road crossings, pavements and so on, and they are a lot more savvy with disability and vision impairment. They know about guide dogs so there aren’t many access issues. It’s heartbreaking that even in the UK, with the Equality Commission, there can be problems, and sometimes those ignorant of the law won’t let guide dogs in.
Countries that participate in the pets passport scheme – EU, US, Canada, Australasia – allow guide dogs into the aircraft cabin to sit with you, but for non-EU, African and Asian travel I have to rely on a white cane.
Despite all that, my real love is Asia – the antithesis of the US. Travelling to places such as Colombo in Sri Lanka, or Bangkok is more challenging – the built environment is harder – but I love the markets, the food, the smells, the streetlife, the people, and being in a non-western culture and sampling the social attitudes to blindness and to me. I drink it all in and it’s fascinating.
I always stay away from the main attractions. If I were on holiday in London, I’d avoid Buckingham Palace and go to Acton. So in Thailand I missed the reclining Buddha and preferred to get down into the floating markets. In Colombo, Pettah market was a full-on assault, the fantastic- smelling curry! In Thailand it’s the beautiful waft of banana fritters.
Then you walk down the road and there’s the god-awful smell of the sewers. I love the collage of smells and tastes in the streets, the tactile experiences of touching a carving, a chicken, a goat, a jewel, a piece of cloth, and the interaction between you and the traders.
I like to visit the local blind institute wherever I go, as I’m interested in the cultural comparison in terms of social and legal provision, plus they’ll give me tips and tricks for travelling there. The further off the beaten track you go the more problems and challenges you face, but there’s a rich world out there and the more you move around the more you build confidence.
Dave Kent, engagement officer for the London team for Guide Dogs (guidedogs.org.uk), formerly called The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association
Source: The Guardian