To celebrate World Sight Day, a global event that raises awareness of blindness and visual impairment, we spoke to a musical explorer who is seeking out new destinations.
Lizzie Capener (37) is an opera singer who lives in London’s Crystal Palace. She suffers from a degenerative condition which caused her eyesight to deteriorate over the years. Lizzie had trained as a secondary school music teacher but when she was officially registered blind in 2013, she had to give up her job. “It’s a bit tricky keeping track of a room full of teenagers when you don’t have your full sight,” she told Lonely Planet. Lizzie now teaches music workshops to primary school children but regularly travels up and down the UK as an opera singer. Last year she commuted regularly to Manchester when she was a judge on the BBC reality music TV show, All Together Now.
For Lizzie, one of the biggest frustrations of travelling as a blind person is the lack of consistency with assistance in public transport. “There’s such a different range of assistance, at times it can be wonderful but at times I’m left to my own devices and that can be a little overwhelming,” she said. “I can get a bit nervous and anxious in crowded stations and as I can’t see who’s approaching me from the side, I end up bumping into people, which can be a bit awkward.”
Lizzie praised the assistance at her local Tube station in Brixton and said that they’re used to her comings and goings. A staff member will regularly approach her and make sure she gets to her destination safely. “They’re really good at approaching and asking if you need help,” she said. “They’ll put me on a train and phone ahead to the next station to let them know when I’ll be arriving and where I’m sitting. When I reach my destination, someone will get on the train to escort me to the exit or take me to the next train.”
Visually, Lizzie can slightly make out what’s in front of her but has no peripheral vision. Regardless, she lives an independent life and gets around through the use of a cane (although later this year she’ll welcome a guide dog). Losing her sight hasn’t put her off travelling and she regularly enjoys trips abroad. She recently travelled to Italy, Iceland and France, although she prefers to travel with a companion.
“I still enjoy travelling but I don’t really feel too safe on my own yet, although that might change with the dog,” she said. “I did travel to France this year alone to visit my cousin. I took an overnight crossing with Brittany Ferries and they literally put me on the ferry, took me to my seat and came and got me the next morning. It’s assistance like that that gives me more confidence. Airports are generally quite good too, especially Heathrow. Staff usually put me in a little buggy and take me where I need to go. It’s also easy travelling with my partner because he’s so switched on. He’s a good tour guide.”
The estimated number of people in the world who are visually impaired is 285 million, according to the World Health Organisation. Of this number, 246 million have low vision while 39 million are blind.
Improvements are being made in the tourism industry to accommodate the number of travellers with visual impairments. A tour operator called Traveleyes specialises in group holidays for blind holidaymakers. It was set up in 2004 by the blind British entrepreneur, TV presenter and motivational speaker, Amar Latif. The company pairs sighted travellers with travellers who have a visual impairment and they embark on city, adventure and beach trips, placing a real emphasis on sensory experiences.
“One of our most popular destinations is Sorrento,” Andrew Milburn from Traveleyes told Lonely Planet. “It was one of our first destinations and has been repeated numerous times. Visiting Pompeii and the wine and limoncello tasting in that region is extremely popular. Another sought-after destination is Cuba. The dancing, the music, the food, the retro cars… it’s all one big sensory experience.”
In the company’s first year they offered two destinations, now they offer more than 60 destinations across the globe. They regularly welcome first-time travellers and travellers who have been using them for more than 10 years. For more information on Traveleyes, see here.
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