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Benefits of discovery trips for young people with visual impairments

School Years: Inclusive Education

Hviezdoslava Novotna


Association of Parents and Friend of Blind and Partially Sighted Children

Jungmannova 13

110 00  Praha 1

Czech Republic

verkan @volny.cz

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am bring you many warm regards from the families with visually impaired children in the Czech Republic.

I am pleased that I can present to you our project.- There have been prepared and carried out seven discovery trips abroad for a group of thirty students with visual impairment in the Czech Republic so far. I am often asked what makes me to prepare these trips, what good they can do, when many of participants can see very little or nothing? Some of people will find their own answer when they participate to this project. And also our document could be useful for the ones who are interested in  why we have been doing it.

In his book "Carpathian Games", Miloslav Nevrlı writes:"You breathe in the smell that you have not smelled for twenty-five years, and suddenly, old travels come back to you: far-off girls, old log cabins, river banks... They are as clear as if you had left them an hour ago. The memory of smells is the clearest, deepest, most animal-like . Compared with smells, other memories - diaries, pictures, collections from travels are faint and dim. Lying hidden somewhere inside your head, in a ball of smells from olden days, are the smells of all the places that you have travelled through, details of long forgotten smells, waiting for a wind to wake them after all those years."

Every year in the Spring, the air begins to smell of faraway places. Overwhelmed by this smell, everyone starts planning their summer journeys and visually impaired students are no exception. For several years now, they have been making coach tours all around Europe. What makes them do this, when many of them can see very little or nothing at all of the places they visit?

The often repeated claim that modern man absorbs 80 percent of what he knows of the world around him by sight could lead us to misinterpretation; suggesting, perhaps, that a blind person could only obtain some 20 percent. The reality, of course, is quite different: we all have our own complete idea about the world that surrounds us. We put it together from all the pieces of information available to us - and they are all different and obtained in different ways.

As with anyone else, visually impaired people gain the most valuable information through personal experience. Their own experience - not intermediated by somebody else. Indeed true experience can only be obtained through one's own individual experiences.

Experiences - here is the answer to the question why blind people travel. The knowledge gained in geography, history or biology lessons is turned into specific experiences, associated, for example,

. with unusual meals of exotic taste and smell, typical of a particular place ...

. with sounds of exotic birds or animals - the experience is even bigger when it is possible to touch the animals .. .

. with a possibility to visit places that have significance for people – for instance the building where Nobel price winners are awarded...

. In other places, relatively abstract political terms can receive content - in this respect, for visually impaired students the visit to institutions of the European Union was helpful.
Museums showing the history of particular countries are generally a treasury of attractions. Sometimes you can even touch a piece of history. Some years ago, the news of a sensational discovery of well-preserved Viking vessels appeared in magazines for the blind, and at that time only few would have thought that Czech blind students would ever be able to touch them. Another advantage is that in most countries, museums have designed special programmes for the blind. Information on these programmes can be obtained beforehand from the International Council of Museums or on individual institutions' websites.
Where it is not technically possible to offer visually impaired visitors the authentic artefact itself, alternatives are often devised to include replicas with information as for example scale-models of ships of the Spanish conquerors.

In his book entitled "Travels With Charley", American writer John Steinbeck wrote: "We go out to the world to get to know ourselves" And surely this is another reason why blind people travel. The curiosity of: how am I going to manage away from home, out of my fixed stereotypes. How will I get along with the guide and other travellers all day long on one coach, at one table? How am I going to look after my luggage? How am I going to handle situations, some of which can be pretty tough - both for body and mind. For the students who study languages, travelling is a possibility to test their skills in real-life situations, and sometimes even act as interpreters for other participants in the excursion.
But even those who do not speak the language fluently can benefit from hearing local people speak, hearing the sounds of street, having to respond when they are asked...

Filming the travel experiences on a video-camera is also important for the visually impaired, allowing the possibility to capture and preserve the sounds and overall atmosphere of places. To partially sighted students it can also offer an additional opportunity to watch the videotape and to study the situations in detail, enhancing their original imperfect visual perception. For this purpose a high-quality recording is needed and it is therefore advantageous if it is made by a video camera-skilled guide.

There is also an opportunity to get to know some of the typical sights of European countries through their replicas in Mini-Europe. It is very helpful for visually impaired people to lay hands on the whole Eiffel Tower, but it should not replace the authentic experience of visiting Paris.

Travelling is a hobby which may not suit everyone. For blind and partially sighted students it can be a valuable source of knowledge and self-knowledge. The effort invested by those who organise trips for visually impaired students is balanced by a feeling of satisfaction. If you take the number of countries that Czech students have already visited in our project, it makes an impressive list: France, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, England, Scotland, Sweden, Norway, Corsica, Montenegro, Luxembourg.
Special-destination trips were made to Brussels and Strasbourg, the seats of important European institutions.

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