Change 100

I’ve been keeping this under my hat for a while now, but some exciting things are soon ahead for Jazzy and I and I’m excited to share them here.

AS you might know, I graduated from University with a 1st in English Literature in 2016. Since then I stayed in the city I studied in, hoping to find work. I would like to work in Communications, doing things like writing press releases, managing social media platforms etc. I’ve had some experience working in the Corporate Communications team of my University while I was studying, but unfortunately haven’t been able to find work in the sector since graduating.

The process of looking and applying for work as someone with a disability is a topic I’ll expand on in another post, but for now I’ll share the fantastic news that I’ve finally gotten an internship for the summer which will hopefully go a long way to helping me into full time employment.

I’ve gained this internship through the Change 100 Programme, a scheme run by Leonard Cheshire Disability aiming to help disabled students and graduates into work by offering internship opportunities and mentorship. It’s a relatively new programme that is gaining success every year, this year partnering with organisations to offer 140 internships to disabled students and graduates around the country. Find out more information about the Change 100 Programme via this link:

https://www.leonardcheshire.org/support-and-information/life-and-work/skills-development/employment-programmes/change100

Undertaking the internship means relocating for Jazzy and I as we’ll be working in London. We’ll be living just outside the capital and commuting in every day, working five days a week for three months. Inevitably it’ll be a big change for both of us and though it sounds a little daunting I’m excited and confident we’ll both take it in our stride.

We’ve already taken steps to ensuring a smooth transition, having mobility and orientation in London and escalator training for Jazzy. It’s important to take my guide dog into account whenever big changes like this are on the horizon. Thankfully Jazzy is an adaptable and confident dog; she is very quick to learn new routes and enjoys doing it so I don’t foresee any problems where she is concerned.

I’ve also had my first experience of applying to Access To Work; a government funded scheme intended to level the playing field for disabled people in work by providing accessibility equipment and support for a disabled person so that they need not depend on their employer for those adaptions. Access to Work has a somewhat mixed reputation and from my experience with them so far, I’m not sure that reputation is unfounded, though my dealings with them are currently ongoing so I’ll update on my experience with them in a later post.

For now, I think that’s as much as I can say at this point. I start my internship in a couple of weeks so I’ll be sure to keep my readers updated with our progress adapting to working in the big city. Until then, wish me luck!

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Getting back in the saddle

My mum says that from the time I could walk and talk I showed a huge fascination with horses, so much so that everything from my favourite toys to the painted stencils on my bedroom walls were all horsey themed. To be honest, not much has changed now. I mean, my bedroom walls were painted over long ago, but I still have as much, if not more love for horses than I did then.

I started riding lessons when I was about seven. Some of my favourite memories of being a kid are of our Saturday mornings at the ranch. Mum and I used to ride at our local school. It wasn’t a specialist RDA school or anything, but back then I had significantly more vision than I do now, so not much was made of my visual impairment when I started riding because there wasn’t really any need to. 

Riding lessons continued pretty consistently while I was growing up, until our local ranch closed so the lessons came to a halt (excuse the pun). I can’t remember exactly how old I was, but I’m sure there was maybe a three year gap until I started riding regularly again when I was thirteen.

This time we encountered a bit more trouble trying to find me a riding teacher. By then my vision was deteriorating so that I was severely sight impaired. We again approached a local teacher but I remember my dad having to argue my case pretty fervently for me to have lessons; the teacher in question was reluctant to have me at her school because of insurance and health and safety concerns. Thankfully we managed to persuade her to let me ride; I ended up having lessons regularly at that school for around four years and the teacher and I ended up getting on really well.

During that time, my teacher and I developed a number of tactics that enabled me to ride safely and independently, whilst also progressing my skills. I would count the horses strides so that I would know when to turn e.g. sixteen strides in trot along the length of the school before a right turn and ten strides along the with before another right turn and my teacher would stay central throughout and be constantly talking so that I could orientate myself by her voice. She encouraged me mostly to learn to interpret the horse’s movements for myself, so that I could tell by feel if I was walking straight etc. It did a lot for my balance and coordination, especially the dressage stunts involving riding over poles and very precise turns.

I’m really grateful to my parents for helping me pursue horse riding because it’s something that I not only love so much, but it also helped ground me when I was losing a lot of sight as a teenager. At a time when a lot of things were changing for me, when I suddenly couldn’t do a lot of things any more, horse riding was a constant that never changed. It was something active; something physical that took my mind off other things. It was also something I was good at and that I could take pride in at a time when my self-esteem was taking a bit of a beating.

There’s something about horses, being so powerful yet so gentle that really fascinates me. I can think of few things more peaceful than grooming a horse. At the same time, I can think of few things more exhilarating than sitting on a horses back as it canters at top speed. It’s thrilling and so freeing. I struggle to put it into words. 

I was lucky enough to own my own horse for a couple of years, but with me leaving home for University we sadly weren’t able to keep him for very long, and a negative experience with uni’s equestrian society meant that I hadn’t ridden a horse for around four years… until today!

Mum and I found a Groupon voucher for a 30-minute private lesson and 1 hour hack at Matchmoor Riding Centre, so we dug out our boots and hats and trotted off to Bolton excited and a little nervous. We didn’t need to be though, because as soon as we got in our saddles it all came flooding back and neither of us stopped smiling the whole time we were there. It really is like riding a bike, it all comes back to you straight away. It’s definitely rekindled my desire to take up riding regularly again as well, I didn’t realise how much I miss it until this afternoon. 

RDA

The Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) is a UK charity bringing education, therapy and fun to the lives of disabled people. They hold local RDA groups all over the country that can be a great place to start if you’re interested in horse riding and you have a disability, but they also offer disability awareness training and specific teaching qualifications to riding schools as well, so even if there isn’t an RDA group near you there may be RDA trained teachers at nearby schools. The RDA’s slogan is ‘it’s what you can do that counts’ which I really like; it promotes an ethos that they focus on people’s abilities, rather than their disabilities. Check out their website via the link below:www.rda.org.uk

Cyprus with Seable and VICTA

I was recently lucky enough to spend the week in Cyprus on a trip organised by VICTA Children and Seable Holidays. Along with nine other visually impaired people and four sighted guides, I spent a week making the most of everything Cyprus has to offer; from sun bathing to pottery making we did it all!

The trip

Though it could appear daunting to go on holiday with a group of people you may never have even met before, I can say from personal experience that VICTA and Seable are so welcoming and friendly that the atmosphere of their trips are great from the get go. The ethos of VICTA trips is to encourage as much independence as possible, so while sighted volunteers are on hand to guide where needed, they also encourage us to help ourselves and each other as much as possible.

Upon arriving in sunny Cyprus after a stress free flight, we made our way to the hotel and spent the rest of that day orienting ourselves around the building, our rooms and most importantly the pool, before having dinner at a local restaurant.

Our first full day in Cyprus was our chance to try some arts and crafts. We visited a local centre where we learned from local artists all about glass making, tapestry, mosaics and much more. We also were able to try our hands at a bit of pottery and magnet making ourselves. Personally, the pottery instructor told me that he’d never met anybody as terrible at pottery as me, so I won’t be taking up that career any time soon but I’m glad to say that others in the group had better luck. We finished off the day with an afternoon on the beach and more wonderful food.

The next day was all about Paphos, as we explored the archaeological park in the morning and roamed the harber in the afternoon. This was personally one of my favourite days of the trip as I was just blown away learning about the history of the ancient ruins and local mythology. The House of Dionysus, one of the ruins we visited, was extremely accessible having braille information and small scale tactile representations of the mosaics. That evening myself and a few others decided to sample the local delicacy of maze, which consists of lots of small dishes being brought out to share among the table. The food was stunning, though I think we were all more than full by the end. I believe we got up to ten courses all in all!

The following morning we waved goodbye to Paphos and made our way to Troodos where we’d spend the rest of the week,not forgetting to stop for a wine tasting on the way. The afternoon was spent hiking on Troodos mountain lead by a local guide. The weather was fantastic and the nature beautiful, the views weren’t half bad either so I’m told 😉

For our last full day in Cyprus we visited a local botanical garden, a sweets factory and rose factory. The botanical gardens were again beautiful, full of all sorts of fantastic wildlife. The sweets shop was a sweet-tooths heaven; jams, marmalades and sweets of all kind, all home made and made from local produce. And of course the rose factory was fascinating. Not only did it smell beautiful, but the owner who came to speak with us about her business was obviously very knowledgable and passionate about her work and was extremely accommodating in letting us feel and sample all of the different products they produce. I just couldn’t resist spending my remaining euros in their gift shop and I got some lovely suvineers.

All in all it was a very relaxed trip, full of fun and laughter. I can definitely say that I’ve come away from the week with great memories and really good friends. I would absolutely recommend VICTA and Seable to anyone for their services, information about which I’ll post below.

Who are VICTA and Seable?

VICTA (Visually Impaired Children Taking Action) are a national charity serving visually impaired children and young adults and their families. They organise residential weekends and international trips throughout the year that are intended to raise the independence and confidence of young VI people. I’ve been attending VICTA events since I was around 15 and have made countless friends and made fantastic memories through the experiences I’ve had with them. They plan activities for a range of age-groups, from family weekends for young children and their families to international trips for 18 to 30 years old like the one I attended to Cyprus. Check out their website for more information: http://www.victa.org.uk

Seable is an award winning social enterprise organising accessible and active holidays for individuals, couples, families and small groups. They can arrange trips to a number of locations including Sicily, Slovenia and Roam and will taylor your holiday to your spesific access needs. They are an invaluable service for those of us who have disabilities but who also want to see the world by going on fun, interactive and relaxed trips where your disability won’t stopd you from doing anything. So far I’ve attended two Seable trips including the recent one to Cyprus, but fully intend to go on many more and would recommend anyone who likes to travel and who has a disability to consider them before booking your next holiday because I promise you won’t regret it. Click on the link below to check out their website: http://www.seable.co.uk