2016 has been another busy year of touring the country with the story of The Blind Man of Hoy. From The Edinburgh International Book Festival to The Petworth Literary Weekend, via disability awareness symposia and broadcast round table discussions I have been delighted to find audiences full of people eager to hear a blind person’s perspective on the world and keen to build a more inclusive society in which those with disabilities can take a full and active part.
It was the ‘can do’ spirit of the London 2012 Paralympics that got me off the sofa and convinced others I could climb The Old Man of Hoy. Just as in London the extraordinary success of Team GB Paralympians like Steve Bate, in Rio this year has caught the public imagination, encouraging people to look beyond the disability and focus on the individual; to see us as differently-abled not dis-abled; dented not written off.
It is vital that we act on this, not just from an equal rights point of view, but for our own physical and mental wellbeing. With a recent study reporting that over 40% of Blind & Visually Impaired (BVI) people suffer from mental health problems (myself included) and bearing in mind the well-documented link between physical inactivity and depression – it is clear that the mobility issues and low expectations associated with sight loss create a toxic cocktail. While it may work for some, there needs to be an alternative to the traditional model of passive stoicism.
So next year I will carry on beating the drum for active involvement by BVI people. Not only do we need to be visible but we need to show people what we can do and how they can help us do it better. With this in mind I am preparing a TED talk aimed specifically at secondary schools that examines perceptions of disability and the need to focus on what you can achieve rather than seeing only what might have been.
In between the book talks and tub-thumping I have tried to keep active with regular climbing and wildwater swimming trips (including a hypothermic attempt to become the first blind swimmer to complete the Henley Classic Thames swim) and a much more successful white-water rafting expedition down The Grand Canyon.
Having just returned from a bruising climbing trip to the white limestone cliffs of Southern Sardinia it is time to plan new challenges for next year and to devote some time to my (rather neglected) next book: a spooky, cautionary tale about a middle-aged couple who abandon their metropolitan life to live the rural dream in Dorset. Provisionally titled The Darkening World of Arthur Rouse.
I am also taking bookings for next year so should you wish me to speak at your literary festival, school, university, bookshop, library, climbing club or WI please do not hesitate to contact me via my publisher ([email protected]) or through the contact link on this website.