Katherine’s Kayaking and White Water Rafting Experience

ELVis member Katharine Way, 54, from Waltham Forest talks about her experience participating in white water rafting in Lee Valley, and undertaking a four-week kayaking course with the Docklands Sailing and Watersports Centre.

“I have retinitis pigmentosa. My father and grandmother had it, and it’s been in my family for generations. I’m partially sighted and I still have a reasonable amount of sight. But there are plenty of things that I can’t do, like driving.

I grew up around water in Swansea, South Wales. As a kid I enjoyed many summers by the beach and swimming in the sea near the Gower Peninsula. I occasionally go back to visit, and when I’m feeling brave enough I take a quick dip in the water. My parents also owned a kayak. My father was blind so my mother would navigate. As a family we’d go paddling in the Brecon Canals and Llangorse Lake, which I always loved doing. What can I say? I love water! Growing up by the sea you do, and I always try to find water again.

When I saw the opportunity to participate in water-based activities with ELVis I couldn’t say no. I went white water rafting at Lee Valley in May. That was a real revelation because I was so nervous I nearly wimped out on the day. But then I thought, when else would I get the chance to do this and have all the help I need. So I talked myself back in to it, and I’m very glad I did because it was a really fun experience. The only thing I found completely nerve-racking was the swim test because I had to jump in to the rapids and stay afloat. I managed it, and after that everything else was a breeze.

CV079_Metro-Rafting_170520.jpg
Photo of Katharine under taking the swim challenge during white water rafting.

On the other hand, kayaking is definitely splashier than white water rafting. My favourite part was getting to explore the waters surrounding Canary Wharf. During the first week of the course I found it tricky to paddle, but now I’ve gotten the hang of it and I feel more confident moving around on the water. I’ve even learnt it’s important to keep in rhythm with the other person who is paddling. Also, the kayaking instructors were great because they’re really patient and they explain everything clearly. If they need to do what they normally do in a different way they do it, which was great.

Taking part in both activities made me rethink the whole way I deal with my disability. I thought there were a lot of things I couldn’t do anymore because of my sight, like rowing a boat. So accomplishing something like kayaking you start to think that you shouldn’t assume that there are all these things you can’t do, but instead find a way of doing them safely. So it’s been quite a big thing for me to take part in, and it’s built my confidence. Plus, it’s been liberating and fun. Don’t forget that!

The skies the limits now as there are so many activities I’d like to do. Thank you East London Vision for organising and subsidising these activities for vision impaired people. It’s absolutely heartening.”

IMG_2287
Photo of Katharine (left) in a double kayak.

East London Vision would like to thank the Primary Club for funding, which has made it possible to run the kayaking sessions for our members.

Written by Katharine Way and Ray Calamaan

Advertisements

Your Eyes Be Active Information Event

Free food, games, and the opportunity to find out lots of information about local vision impaired services- this was what awaited us at the Barking and Dagenham Your Eyes Be Active event!

On Thursday 27th July, the ELVis team headed over to the Barking Learning Centre for the Your Eyes Be Active information day, run by the borough’s Disability Services, Enabling Independence Team and Sensory Team. This was a great opportunity for people to find out about the different local services that are available to help support people with sight loss, and to meet the people providing these services.

There was a wide range of stalls at the event. People were encouraged to think about staying healthy, with the opportunity to get their blood pressure checked as well as meeting groups that support VI sports sessions. There was also a stall demonstrating healthy cooking which had some very tasty salads on display. By happy coincidence, this stall happened to be placed right next to the ELVis stall, which made it very convenient when going up to get second helpings!

Others at the event included Guide Dogs, the local Talking Newspaper and several social groups. There was also one of the new Routemaster buses parked outside, giving people the opportunity to have a look around it so that they are familiar with these buses when they come across them in future. There were people demonstrating different technological gadgets (including ELVis’s Graham who had the Amazon Echo and the Google Home device), and others who gave careers advice to those looking to get into work.

As well as stalls, throughout the day people went to talks given by speakers on a variety of different topics. These ranged from how people have benefited from using employability services to an inspirational speaker who made people laugh telling them about some of his experiences throughout his life as a vision impaired person.

All in all, this was a fantastic day.  It was lovely for us at ELVis to meet and chat to lots of new people, and it was great to see so many different services, which all have a part to play in supporting the lives of our local vision impaired people. If you hear of any information event going on near you, I recommend that you go along and check it out- who knows what you might discover?  (And there might be free food, too!)

IMG_1261

Photo of the ELVis team (Nicola, Chris and Graham) at the Your Eyes Be Active information day.

Written by Nicola Stokes

VIPON’s London Zoo Outing on the 29th of June

We were joined by Aqua Ephraim and Tahira Malik at the ELVis office recently and they shared their experience of VIPON’s (Visually Impaired Persons of Newham) trip to London Zoo on the 29th of June.

How was the journey to the zoo?

We all met in Stratford in the morning and we took the Overground train to Camden Road Station. From there we took a bus directly to the zoo. It was a pretty straight forward journey.

What was the group’s impression of the zoo?

The terrain at the zoo was very hilly which made it challenging for some of us in wheelchairs to get around. Also, we didn’t have a member of staff from the zoo guiding the group so we had to rely on ELVis volunteers to be our guides and describe the surroundings. On a positive note, we saw lots of animals including giraffes, flamingos, monkeys…the list goes on! Although, we were disappointed we didn’t get to see the tigers and lions- they were probably resting because of the hot weather. Our newest member Muqqadas who was attending her first outing with the group said she liked the zoo very much and was glad she came along, especially because the group made her feel very welcome.

What was your favourite part of the zoo?

We both loved seeing the tropical fishes and underwater plants at the aquarium. For some of us with some sight the colours of the sea life stood out which made the experience really enjoyable. Also, most of the members really liked the penguins because they could see their black and white skin. We watched them swim and act silly while they splashed us!

img_0284
Photo of Shahid, ELVis service user, crouching down in front of a large perspex water tank with swimming penguins.
How accessible was the zoo?

I’d say it’s fairly accessible- the zoo is mostly sight orientated so more work should be done to make it a better experience for VI people. Although saying this we were able to smell the different animals which was helpful for members of the group with very little or no sight. Also, the facilities at the zoo were great and the group loved eating in the restaurant because the air conditioner helped them to cool down.

And what are your overall thoughts about the outing?

It was the hottest and longest day of the year but we enjoyed ourselves very much. VIPON would like to say a massive thank you to the ELVis volunteers and members of staff for making the day accessible and enjoyable for all. Well done!

img_0419
Photo of some members of the VIPON social group looking happy and standing besides a very large sign that says ‘welcome to the zoo’.
Written by Aqua Ephraim, Tahira Malik and Ray Calamaan

The Concierge Service for the Visually Impaired at Westfield Stratford City Shopping Centre

As the Technology Officer at ELVis I tend to write about technology for the blog. This month, however, I’ve written about a recent shopping experience.

Most readers will be aware that Stratford, East London is home to one of the largest shopping centres in Europe which is a popular shopping destination for millions of Londoners and tourists. Getting to Westfield Stratford City is very easy. By public transport the nearest train station is Stratford which is also served by a number of local bus routes. Additionally, there is lots of parking if you’re being driven there.

Generally, people with no useful vision for reading or getting around, such as myself, would view a large shopping centre like Westfield with real fear. In my experience, shopping centres are constantly busy with shoppers so it’s difficult to get around. Moreover, the same background music is played all over the shopping centre so there’s little in the way of audio clues as to what is around you.  And I’ve come to realise that navigation equipment that relies on GPS satellites is of limited or no use in large shopping centres.

At Westfield Stratford City, one of the great features available to the public is the Concierge service. This allows a person with little or no sight to go to the Concierge desk and ask for assistance to take them to one of Westfield’s many shops, restaurants and facilities. More than often they will wait with you if you’re only buying one or two items. However, if you’re planning on spending hours shopping or dining at a restaurant, then the Concierge staff will make sure you’re given the phone number for the Concierge desk so you can phone for assistance when you’re ready to leave.

I’ve used this service well over 20 times and I must say it’s extremely helpful as it has saved me from wandering around Westfield and getting lost. Also, even when the shopping centre has been really busy, such as during Christmas, I’ve never waited more than 10 minutes for assistance.

In my opinion, the Concierge service for vision impaired people turns a difficult and stressful situation into a relatively hassle-free shopping trip. I just wish more shopping centres across the country would adopt this similar service.

For more information about their Concierge service for people with visual impairments, please visit: https://uk.westfield.com/stratfordcity/services/all-services/visual-impairment/711

Written by Graham Page

A newbie’s account of Ridderrennet and the limited snow filled week

I signed myself up to the 2017 Ridderrennet week in November 2016, not knowing what I’d really gotten myself into having never cross-country skied before.

Ridderrennet is an annual international disabled cross-country ski competition held in Beitostølen supported by student volunteers from Sports Science degree courses and the King’s guards from the army. With cross-country skiing there are two tracks in the snow that skis fit into, which aid vision impaired people to follow the tracks whilst skiing.

After having a rocky start with Ryanair on Sunday 26 March and their limited desire of wanting to accommodate 8 blind and partially sighted passengers we safely landed in sunny Oslo. On Monday morning I was paired up with my guide for the week. We ventured out and hit the snow, or what may be better referred to as slush and rather difficult cross-country skiing conditions.

By the end of day 2 I wasn’t sure whether skiing was for me, but when old hands like Mike Brace say “I’ve never known snow conditions to be this bad in all my years of coming and for beginners it isn’t the best conditions to be learning to cross-country ski”, I stopped giving myself a hard time for not grasping it as well as I’d have liked. As the week progressed so did my skiing abilities and the slight onset of sore muscles informed me that I was working hard!

IMG_0099
Photo of Masuma standing in the snow with her skis on. 

Thursday arrived with snow falling and the challenge of tackling the hills as part of my first race. Not sure who at this stage was more nervous me or my guide! I was counted down at the start line and before I knew it we were off and tackling our first downhill of the 4K race. I made it to the finish line with some rather splendid uphill and downhill falls along the way, but in 54 minutes and one exhausted piece! The rest of that day entailed rest and sleep!!

Saturday morning the atmosphere was buzzing over breakfast with everyone excited about the race, with plenty of discussions about start times and competing to beat each other, as well as own personal race times. Whilst the skiers and guides readied themselves for the race at the World Cup Arena the military band came out and played. My personal goal was to try to beat my time from Thursday, although not knowing what the tracks would be like it was virtually impossible to say how it would plan out.

For the second time that week I queued and edged my way to the start line and waited to be counted down with my guide beside me who was telling me I had to give it my all as it was the last day of skiing and I could rest tomorrow. I encountered just as many interesting falls as the previous race, but with more confidence and the focus of beating my time in the forefront of my mind I got up and kept going. I crossed the finish line with a few marvellous falls with my legs having turned to jelly and given way from exhaustion of smashing my previous time and coming in at 35 minutes!

IMG_0129
Photo of Masuma and her guide with the medals they won in the race.

Despite the lack of snow and awful conditions as a newcomer it was a great week, I got to meet some awesome people, push myself physically and try something new and challenging at the same time, as well as discover muscles I didn’t know existed, or had forgotten they did. To say I was sore by the end of the week was an understatement! As one of a few newbies on the trip we didn’t have the same expectations as previous attendees, so did the best we could, but equally giving us something better to look forward to hopefully next time.

The whole week was extremely well organized from transport to guides, to volunteer support at breakfast, lunch and dinner. If you were unfortunate enough to be lost, or misguided by another vision impaired person (a frequent occurrence!) a helping hand was never too far away to offer a guiding arm.

If you have never cross-country skied and are looking for something challenging to do as well as socialise then I’d say to keep an eye out for next year’s Ridderrennet week and start working on the leg and arm muscles.

IMG_0118
Photo of Masuma and other participants proudly showing their medals.

Written by Masuma Ali