Heather enjoys running, travelling, and even tried paragliding on a recent holiday. She says:
"I’m from a Deaf family. I was diagnosed as being blind when I was 19 and my vision has slowly got worse. It didn’t really affect me at first but when I was 28 it started to get difficult to recognise sign language and I gave up driving. My parents always taught me that I could do things myself: I went to a mainstream school and I’m very independent.
I get support from Access to Work and I have an interpreter. They have to use hands on signing so I can feel the signs as I can’t see. They also drive me around as I have to do home visits as part of my job.
I use a lot of technology to help me in everyday life. I have an apple watch which alerts me in the event of a fire, and I have a motion sensor which alerts my phone when one of my housemates comes in. When I’m travelling I use a translation app and the maps on my phone - it vibrates when I need to turn a corner. I also use my phone camera to help me see if it’s a bit dark, as the camera is lighter than what I can see.
I caught the travelling bug when I went to Australia in 2015 - the Deaf Olympics was on there. Me and a couple of friends travelled in a camper van for 3 months and finished in Perth. I’ll never stop travelling even if my eyes get worse. I’ve had some close shave moments but I’m a Christian and I really think God catches you when you fall.
I do a lot of running. When I could drive I used to just get in the car and I really enjoyed being in that bubble and listening to music. When I stopped driving I missed that so I started running to replace it – it gives me that sense of freedom and independence that I don’t have normally.
I prefer to run along the same route where there are no obstacles. I do sometimes fall, but I’m happy to take those risks because I value the independence. I like swimming as well – the lifeguards let me swim along the wall which guides me. They’ve been brilliant and really understanding – over the years I’ve learnt how to explain to people if I need access.
I recently went on a skiing holiday. I’ve got tunnel vision so I couldn’t see the ground, the bumps or how steep the slope was. I had an instructor who acted as my guide – he skied in front of me and I followed his skis. It cost a lot more but it’s not about the money, it’s about the experience; I got to go with my friends, I felt included, I got to experience what skiing is like and I’ll never forget it.
I could only afford to ski for a few hours a day but when I wasn’t skiing I got on the bus and went to the local swimming pool. I asked the bus driver for directions – he could tell I was Deaf but I couldn’t see where he was pointing to, so he actually got off the bus and walked with me all the way to the swimming pool.
At the end of the week the ski instructor got a map out and drew the routes that we’d taken. I showed my friends and they were absolutely gobsmacked. On the last day I went paragliding – when you’re skiing people enjoy the views on the way down but I didn’t get to see that because I was concentrating on trying to get down the hill safely. It was so worth it, it felt like I was in a documentary - getting really close to the mountains and feeling like I could touch the trees.
Before I went skiing, I had to meet an interpreter every week and ring the resort to try and find a guide – being Deafblind often means I have to be more organised. If I’m going to an event they’ll probably provide an interpreter, but when you’re blind you need a specific Deafblind interpreter or Deaf Relay interpreter so you have to organise that beforehand. There isn’t much awareness about being Deafblind compared to being Deaf.
I really want to meet other Deafblind people around the world. It’s important to meet others who are independent; they encourage you to keep going. There are Facebook groups where Deafblind people meet up every 3 months. I went to one in Chester last Summer and one in Liverpool recently. I met a guy from Northern Ireland who is completely blind and deaf and I helped guide him around Liverpool. On the last day I had to leave him at the airport on his own. He’d never been on a plane alone before and I wanted to show him he could do it. The staff let me stay with him until he boarded the plane - when he landed in Belfast he was absolutely amazed.
There are so many stories I want to share with other Deafblind people about travelling, to encourage them to think maybe it won’t be so bad. You don’t know until you try – it can be daunting but you meet some really nice people who will help you."