Biking without boundaries

Tricycles - great for people with a visual impairment

Biking without boundaries

Cycling is an activity which, as a rule, relies on you being able to see where you're going,so you might think that having a visual impairment would rule you out of taking part. But we all know that rules are there to be broken and, with a bit of help, pretty much anyone can cycle.

I work for CTC as an Inclusive Cycling Development Officer. Along with partner organisation Cycling Projects and with funding from the Big Lottery, we are trying to grow the network of inclusive cycling groups in England, to help make cycling accessible to more and more people, regardless of ability. As well as supporting groups with their regular activities, we also get involved in one-off taster days to help promote inclusive cycling and to signpost people to regular sessions.

Thanks to the Tour de France, there's been a growth in interest in cycling in Yorkshire, and one of many cycling events I've been involved in this year was an event for a group of visually impaired children from across the region. It was the Visual Impairment Teams in Calderdale and Bradford who approached me back in spring with the idea and I was more than happy to get involved. The venue choice was obvious, Spring Hall Athletics Track in Halifax. Local SEN school, Ravenscliffe High School, have a fantastic fleet of adapted bikes at the track, which next year will be home to their purpose built, fully accessible sixth form and community centre that they've been raising money for. The school also has a really positive attitude to cycling, and were more than happy for us to use their bikes, as well as one of their members of staff, the ever smiling Joe, who gave up one of his days off to help out.

Anyway, enough background information, you want to hear about cycling!

Over twenty visually impaired children from across Yorkshire turned up on what was forecast to be a day of typical local weather; sunshine, rain, the odd gust of wind, followed by more sunshine. The bikes we used were a mix of three-wheelers, four-wheelers, tandems, hand bikes, a wheelchair transporter and regular bikes. There was a bike to suit everyone. Some needed gentle encouragement and a bit of help, whilst others hopped straight on and rode all day, only taking a break for lunch! Others cycled a little, and took part in some of the other activities such as athletics or dancing. Over the course of the day everyone had ridden a bike, and it was pretty clear from the smiles that people enjoyed themselves. 

Here's what I learned:

  • Just because you have limited vision, doesn't mean you can't ride a two-wheeled bike - lots of the children were able to quite comfortably ride around, following closely behind or alongside someone
     
  • Riding a tandem is a great way to break down barriers and to get to know people - I spent a lot of the day riding around on a tandem. I now know lots more about being visually impaired and how difficult it is to learn Braille
     
  • Pointing at things and using phrases such as 'put your foot here' doesn't work with visually impaired groups - I'm now much better at describing how to get on a bike, and much better at describing my surroundings
     
  • Tricycles are perfect for people with a visual impairment - They are typically lower to the ground, easy to get on and off, and there are no balance issues. Running in front of tricycle whilst clapping allows the user to follow the sound
     
  • A visual impairment doesn't mean you don't want to ride fast and chasing a speedy bike around a track all day is quite tiring!
     
  • Lots of the children who attended wanted to ride bikes on a regular basis - this was great as it gave me an opportunity to tell the children, parents and carers about regular inclusive cycling activities in the region

If you want to find out more about inclusive cycling in the north-east please contact Gavin Wood on 07825 785490

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