---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: avinash shahi <shahi88avin...@gmail.com>
Date: Sat, 7 Apr 2018 17:32:02 +0530
Subject: Annabel Fenwick Elliott reports for the telegraph: I'm blind
and deaf, and I've explored 127 countries alone – here's what I've
To: disability-studies-india <disability-studies-in...@googlegroups.com>
Cc: jnu_vision <jnu_vis...@googlegroups.com>

Close your eyes, cover your ears, now go and tour Rome on your own.
It’s a prospect that seems infeasible, and yet voyaging the world solo
while blind
and mostly deaf is exactly what Tony Giles does, and he’s almost
certainly better travelled than you are.
The Devon-based author and explorer, who was diagnosed with a rare
genetic visual and auditory impairment during his early childhood, has
visited 127 countries
thus far, all 50 of the US States, and all seven continents on the planet.

“I plan to continue travelling until I’ve visited every single country
in the world, then keep travelling until I die,” he tells Telegraph
Giles will turn 40 this year. He was nine months old when the problem
with his vision was discovered - cone dystrophy and photophobia. At
six, he was declared
partially deaf in both ears. He could see in black and white until the
age of 10.

These days, he’s entirely blind and about 80 per cent deaf. A powerful
hearing aid helps him to hear in certain scenarios but not others.
"It's like having
a phone conversation on a broken telephone line," he explains. "I hear
some sounds and words clearly but miss others."

group start Tony Giles, pictured at a floating market in Banjarmasin,
capital of South Kalimantan, IndonesiaCREDIT: TONY GILES/CATERS
Tony Giles, pictured at a floating market in Banjarmasin, capital of
South Kalimantan, IndonesiaCREDIT: TONY GILES/CATERS
group end

Giles was educated at two schools for the visually impaired - Exhall
Grange School in Coventry and later the Royal National College for the
Blind in Hereford
- where he says he gained all the skills he needed to achieve
independence; braille, mobility training and the use of special
computer software among them.

So without sight, and very limited hearing, what is it actually like
to navigate the world alone - a task daunting enough to most people in
and of itself?
“I experience monuments by climbing them: as I have the Eiffel Tower
and the Statue of Liberty,” he explains. “I experience cities by
walking them. I notice
shifting gradients, detect the changes in surfaces under my feet from
gravel to tarmac, cobblestones to concrete, earth to marble.

“I sense the change in space when hiking the narrow trails of a
forest, as they lead out to an open field when the fresh wind hits my

“I visit famous churches, mosques and temples, touch their crumbling
walls and feel the textures that have been layered over the centuries.

“I enjoy the aromas of a marketplace, the grilling of meat, the frying
of onions and garlic, the zesty spices, ginger and herbs.

“It’s the hussle and bussle of somewhere like Jerusalem’s Old City, or
Zanzibar’s Stone Town - alive with people, animals and sellers
haggling that gives
me the impression of a place.”

group start Jerusalem's Old City CREDIT: GETTY
Jerusalem's Old CityCREDIT: GETTY
group end

Best of all though, are high-adrenaline experiences, he says. “I’ve
bungee jumped 16 times thus far, skydived three times, and white water
rafted in Australia,
New Zealand, Costa Rica and Zambia, to name a few. I love it because I
can feel everything.”

The thrill of movement, he says, and the challenges of getting from A
to B are what continue to motivate him - he favours the richer
sensations of trains
and boats over other modes of transport.

To plan his trips, Giles uses a type of software called JAWS which
allows him to read his computer screen using text-to-speech output.
This enables him
to research destinations, book hostels, and organise his itinerary
ahead of time. He often needs help booking his flights, he points out,
because airline
sites are notoriously clunky for the visually impaired.

He then travels with a digital device that stores his documents and
research, relevant phone numbers, directions to and from airports and
around public
transport, as well as e-books. Also on his packing list are his
hearing aids, plenty of spare batteries (they die after three weeks
and replacements are
hard to source abroad), and a spare cane to guide him.
The light-sensing cells in the eye's retina come in two varieties:
rods and cones. Rods are extremely sensitive and work better in dim
light, whereas cones
are more effective in bright light. Cones give us our colour vision.

Cone dystrophy is a genetic disorder which stops the cones working,
leading to loss of central and colour vision. People with stationary
dystrophy have
the same level of sight loss from birth or early childhood.
Progressive dystrophy, as in Tony Giles' case, develops later and
sight is lost gradually over

Giles' photophobia often accompanies cone dystrophy, and causes an
intolerance to light. It makes his eyes extremely sensitive to
sunlight and fluorescent
light, meaning he must often wear dark glasses to alleviate discomfort.
“I’ve had my cane run over on several trips,” he says. As for using a
smartphone, unlike most other visually impaired people, it’s a firm

“I don’t like swipe technology, it drives me mad,”  Giles explains.
“Yes, it may help me locate a specific place more quickly and
independently, but I
like engaging with the public to help me find places, and anyway, in
places like Africa, the internet is hardly reliable.”

Asked what he does when he gets lost and doesn’t speak the native
language, Giles says: “I always make sure I have an address card with
the place I’m staying
written on it in the local language, so if I really become stuck, I
can shout ‘taxi!’, show them the card and return to my accommodation.”

Learning new languages on-the-go is a challenge, but Giles says he
always attempts to memorise the basics (“hello”, “thank you”, “water”)
for wherever
he’s off to, and can almost always find someone who can speak a bit of
English if he needs help.

Giles funds his travels partly using the private pension his father
left him when he died, and partly with earnings from the two ebooks
he’s written, the
second of which -
Seeing The World My Way
 - was republished last year.
He keeps to a tight budget, uses public transport wherever possible,
joins free walking tours, and makes use of couch-surfing as often as
he can.

“It’s great for meeting and staying with local people, an exchange of
cultures,” Giles remarks. “Which is the essence of real travel. Plus,
for the most
part, it’s free. It doesn’t always work, but when it does, it’s magical.”

The one place he wouldn’t re-visit? “Armenia,” he says. “I found
getting about and visiting places difficult, and felt most people I
encountered just wanted
to make money out of me. There were only a few backpackers, so it was
hard to network and get help with directions. I found a few kind
people on the streets,
but not many.”

And the best place he’s ever been? New Zealand - (incidentally,
Telegraph Travel readers agree, having now nominated it as their
favourite country in the world
 five times in a row) - and Antarctica.

“I turned up in Ushuaia, the world’s most southern city, found a
cruise ship willing to take me at the last minute, paid slightly more
for an extra guide
and stepped aboard,” he recalls.

“It was nine days of magic. I touched whale bones washed up on the
shore, sat on huge chunks of ice, stroked glaciers and listened to the
cackles of penguins
all around.”
Giles’ persistent trek across the globe has only ever been halted to
address serious health issues associated with his condition.

In 2001, shortly after arriving in Melbourne having backpacked the
southern hemisphere unaided, he received an email from his mother.

“It said, ‘Hi Tony, hope you’re well, you have kidney damage, you need
to see a doctor, you could die – love mum’,” Giles recounts. “I did
what any young,
adventurous lad would do upon hearing such news - I went and got drunk.”

Teetering on the edge of alcoholism, Giles had his last drink in 2002,
then in 2008 underwent a successful kidney transplant - the donor was
his stepfather
- and within three months, was off on his travels once more, first
around the UK, then the rest of the world again.
Sometimes, he travels with his girlfriend of nine years. She is also
blind and lives in Athens. They met after she came across his website,
after which
a friendship gradually evolved into a relationship, but Giles says
that when they’re apart, though he misses her, he never feels lonely.

As he prepares himself for Oman, we ask what simple things others
could do should they cross his path to make his passage easier.

“Speak to me before offering to help, rather than just grabbing me,”
he advises. “It’s frightening to grab someone who’s visually impaired,
and can often
lead to an adverse reaction.

“A gentle tap on the arm or shoulder followed by a ‘Do you need any
help?’ will suffice. And please, people, don’t point when giving

Albania: September 2012

Andorra: March 2014

Argentina: February 2004, January-March 2011

Armenia: November 2010

Aruba: February 2016

Australia: October-December 2001, February 2002, September-October 2016

Austria: September 2005, August 2012, September 2012

Azerbaijan: October 2014

Bahrain: November 2015

Belarus: October 2015

Belgium: August 2000, October 2005, August 2009

Belize: June 2016

Bolivia: March 2011

Bonaire: February 2016

Bosnia and Herzegovina: September 2012

Brazil: January 2004, November 2012

Bulgaria: June 2010

Burkina Faso: March 2017

Burundi: October 2013

Canada: June-September 2004, April 2006, April 2007, March 2008,
December 2009, June 2016

Chile: March 2004, February 2011

Colombia, (Republic of), December 2012

Cook Islands: November 2016

Costa Rica: March-April 2016

Cote d’Ivoire: March 2017

Croatia: September 2012

Cuba: May 2004

Curaçao: February 2016

Cyprus: March 2014

Czech Republic: October 2005, October 2012, September 2017

Denmark: October 2008

Ecuador: December 2012

El Salvador: May 2016

England: from 1995 to present

Estonia: November 2008

Ethiopia: December 2013

Falkland Islands: February 2011

Faroe Islands: August 2015

Finland: October-November 2008

France: April 1994, September 2005, June 2012, March 2014, February 2017

French Guiana: November 2012

Gambia: March 2012, April 2017

Georgia: October-November 2010

Germany: August 1998, October 2003, October 2005, September 2007,
July-August 2009, October 2012, June-July 2014

Ghana: February-March 2017

Gibraltar: January 2008

Greece: November 2009, January-March 2010, April-June 2010, July 2010,
September 2010 November-December 2010, April-May 2011, May-June 2011,
2011, January 2012, April-May 2012, June 2012, September 2012,
December-February 2012-2013, April-June 2013, January 2014, April-May
2014, September 2014,
January 2015, August-September 2015, December 2015-January 2016,
December 2016-January 2017, August 2017

Guatemala: May-June 2016

Guernsey: May 2013

Guinea: April 2012, April 2017

Guinea Bissau: April 2017

Guyana: November 2012

Honduras: May 2016

Hungary: September 2005

Iceland: October 2007

Indonesia: February-May 2015

Ireland: April 2001, March 2007, May 2011, June-July 2016

Isle of Man: July 2013

Israel: October-December 2017

Italy: June 2005, September 2005, December 2005, May 2006, October
2006, July 2011, November 2011, April 2012, December-January 2012-2013

Japan: April-May 2017

Jersey: October 1997, May 2013

Jordan: October 2017

Kazakhstan: September 2016

Kenya: November 2013

Kosovo: July 2010

Kuwait: November 2015

Latvia: August 2014

Lesotho: September 2004

Liechtenstein: August 2012

Lithuania: July 2014

Luxembourg: August 2009

Macedonia: May 2010, July 2010

Malawi: December-January 2004-2005

Malaysia, May 2015

Mali, (Republic of), March-April 2012

Malta: January 2012

Mauritania: February 2012

Mexico: May 2004, June 2016

Moldova: June 2014

Monaco: March 2014

Montenegro: September 2012

Morocco: February 2008, February 2012

Mozambique: September-October 2004

Netherlands: August 2000, October 2005, February 2016

New Zealand: December-February 2001-2002, October-November 2016

Nicaragua: April-May 2016

Northern Ireland: February 2006, May 2011, June 2016

Norway: February 2008, October 2008

Oman: March 2018

Palestine: November 2017

Panama: March 2016

Papua New Guinea: March 2015

Paraguay: March 2011

Peru: March-April 2011

Poland: October 2005, July 2014

Portugal: January 2008

Qatar: January 2016

Romania: May-June 2014

Rwanda: November 2013

San Marino: April 2012

Scotland: April 2005, January 2007, August-September 2007, July 2010,
July 2013, June 2016

Senegal: March 2012, April 2017

Serbia: June-July 2010

Slovakia: August 2012, September 2017

Slovenia: September 2012

South Africa: September 2004, January 2005

Spain: December-January 2007-2008, July 2009, March 2014,
December-January 2014-2015, October-November 2015

Sri Lanka: October-November 2007

Suriname: November 2012

Swaziland: September 2004

Sweden: October 2008

Switzerland: April 2008, August 2012

Tanzania: September-October 2013

Thailand: February 2002

Turkey: August-October 2009, October 2010, November 2010, April-May
2014, September 2014

Uganda: November 2013

Ukraine: June 2014

United Arab Emirates: November 2015

United States of America: April 1995, August 1998, January-June 2000,
June 2002, December-January 2002-2003, March-August 2004, July-August
2006, April-July
2007, March-April 2008, December-January 2009-2010, September 2011, June 2015

Uruguay: February 2004

Vatican City: 21st July 2011

Venezuela: August-September 2008, November 2012

Vietnam: February 2002

Wales: August 1996, August 1997, June 2001, October 2006, June 2011,
April 2014, July 2015

Western Sahara: February 2012

Zambia: November-December 2004

Zimbabwe: November 2004

Avinash Shahi
Doctoral student at Centre for Law and Governance JNU

Avinash Shahi
Doctoral student at Centre for Law and Governance JNU

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