Right now I’m angry, upset and pissed off.

This morning my train pulled into Redfern station as normal. There was the usual struggle to get off the train, dodging the selfish people who just stand there and won’t move.

I get out of the train, and follow the noise to somewhere near the bottom of the stairs, which I manage to miss. When my cane hits the side of the lower stairs, I realise my mistake and double back.

I trudge up the stairs with hundreds of other people, walking at the slowest pace possible. I reach the top of the stairs, and turn to my right at the tactile ground surface indicators (TGSIs) at the top of the stairs.

I follow the barrier on the right side of the concourse by sweeping my cane back and forth in front of myself as I walk. I use the straight edge of the concourse wall to keep walking straight, which is something I’m not able to do without tactile reference. In my left hand I hold my Mini Guide, which I swing in the opposite direction to the cane. As I put my left foot forward, the cane taps the barrier on my right and the mini-guide is pointing around 45 degrees to my left.

I reach the top of the stairs of Platforms 2 and 3, indicated by more TGSIs, and slow, listening for people coming up the stairs checking for people and obstacles with the mini guide. The path appears clear and I take an angle across the top of the stairs looking for the concourse barrier again. I think I find it first with the mini-guide, which vibrates in my hand, and I confirm with the sound of metal on metal as my cane makes contact. I adjust my angle and walk on.

For reasons that completely fail to make any sense to me, people often stand along the edge of this section of the concourse. I have no idea why. Usually it’s a game of dodging some people while others move, but it’s generally hard to tell which is which. At this point, traffic has picked up; trains come and go, people run without looking. The mini-guide starts vibrating continually, which renders it useless, and the sheer number of people making noise on the tiles makes the state of play more confusing.

The stairs to platforms 4 and 5 are set back from the concourse, and while listening for people coming up the stairs, the background noise makes it impossible to work out if the path is clear, if people are standing in the way, or if there’s actually traffic there. I slow down and pass the entrance to the platform as the cane finds only empty space. I take two steps forward before I’m hit first on my left side by someone trying to enter the stairs. I bounce off the person, spin slightly and try to move forward as I’m hit from the right.

People just keep walking, and I try to get out of the way. I’ve lost contact with the side of the concourse while someone kicks the tip of the cane, making it bounce off the ground. I can’t see anything beyond a lot of movement in the dark. I swerve right and the cane contacts the ground and the barrier as I move forward into another body. At this point, it’s just one of those “get out of there” moments, so I push forward, and follow the turn in the concourse.

At this point the concourse changes to a concrete gutter, and I’m hitting it with some force, making a lot of noise, hoping people might actually pay some attention. The cane feels odd, and I suspect its bent. The path clears a bit, the mini-guide stops it incessant vibration, and lots of people are walking the same direction I am, though I feel a few people brush past going the other way.

We come to the entrance to platforms 6 and 7 which are, if anything set further back than the stairs to platforms 4 and 5. At this point I’m just trying to get out alive. There’s lots of noise and motion, the path seems clear. I take three full steps across the landing entrance before not, one, not two, but a bunch of three or four people hit me from the right. I stumble and half trip while the people move around and keep going. I take another step and something feels wrong.

Badly wrong.

The cane isn’t running over the ground properly. I stop as I realise that the thing is now in two pieces held together by the elastic inside. I throw the useless thing on the ground. Retrospectively I think the tip actually broke off at this point, but given the whole end had come away, that was just the last straw.

I shouted. I don’t remember exactly what I shouted. I realise at this point I’m totally stuck, I can’t see anything meaningful, I have nothing to track the ground with (the mini-guide really only works around waist height). I am close to tears and in shock.

What has happened at this point is that my mobility and independence were taken away by a few uncaring people. Were I in a wheelchair, it would be as though they’d tipped me out and taken to it with baseball bats. Would people have done something if that had happened? What about if these people had walked up and poked my eyes out?

(We’ll ignore the minor problem that if I were in a wheelchair I wouldn’t be using Redfern Station as it isn’t wheelchair accessible)

What I got was some random fellow commuter who stopped and asked if I was OK. Not station staff. Not transit officers. A fellow commuter. Would that have happened if I’d been a wheelchair user? If I’d been obviously assaulted?

So this one guy actually stops and asked if I was OK. I mumbled something about the ruined cane, waving it vaguely. At this point I’m mentally pulling myself together enough to think I’ve got a spare at work. I fumble around my phone a bit, trying to find my contacts. Eventually I get it together enough to call the office. It’s just before 9am, so it goes to the answering machine. I hang up and try to find colleagues mobile number. I manage to make the call and arrange to meet near the ticket barriers on Gibbons Street.

At this point I’m starting to make sense of things again, and realise I’ve got to make it down the concourse and the across the open space to the ticket barriers. While I can follow the wall on the edge of the concourse, I have no idea how I’m going to make it across the space with no tactile references. At this point the other guy is still standing there and asks again if I need help. I stumble my way through a sentence, indicating where I needed to go. Placing his arm against my hand, he offered his elbow for me to grab.

I was surprised. Most of the time, when strangers try to lead they grab my arm, or worse still my hand and try and push me along. This is totally the wrong method. This random guy had got it totally right. I asked if he’d done this before, to which he responded that he hadn’t. After taking me through the gate, he left me by the ticket machine, placing my hand on the fence.

So to this random guy, thanks. Seriously thanks. Sorry for being a mess and not thanking you properly at the time.

To the staff, transit officers and other commuters at Redfern Station, I am seriously angry. Presently I’m trying to find a way to work that avoids this station entirely, though I suspect there isn’t one that doesn’t involve at least three train changes.

This is not the first time I’ve had a cane ruined at Redfern station, though this is the most severe example. At no point has any member of staff, any transit officer, or any commuter ever offered any kind of assistance. This, to me, demonstrates exactly what’s wrong with Australia.

This is an entry in the 75th Disability Blog Carnival, and is the first time I’ve done this.

Milestones mark the distances along roads, and date back to the Roman Empire. They tell you how far you’ve come and often how far you’ve got to go. The more metaphorical life milestones don’t often tell us much about the distances between themselves, they’re like the Roman milestones that simply gave the name of the reigning emperor and often hold more significance to us than anyone else.

I was thinking of some milestones before I started writing this, and events that stuck out in my mind were things like walking through Martin Place in Sydney after being told my Optic Nerve was basically dying off, and there’s nothing that can be done. I was with my mother, and I wandered a few meters away as we were making our way to the train station.

This is where it really hit me for the first time, walking past the MLC centre. Naturally enough I saw the whole idea of losing my sight as a sighted person, with the dependence I had on my vision and a lack of understanding of what it really meant. At the age of 20, when life seems like it will go on forever, there was that overwhelming feeling of hopelessness. The tears welled up, and I wanted to scream. But I couldn’t do that there. In the middle of the city. In front of my mother, who had already been through so much with all of her children. I forced it back down.

More recently, having an assessment and totally failing to recognise anything on the eye chart, even from a meter away. Being unable to count fingers on a hand in front of my face. While 14 years had passed between Martin Place and that darkened room in Fairy Meadow, some of that feeling remains. While the fear I felt at 20 has been replaced with skills and confidence, the sense of loss remains.

Losing a significant amount of vision at the point I did, as my brain was reaching the end of its development, I feel that I’ll always be a sighted person who can’t see. Don’t get me wrong, it’s better to have loved and lost. I’ve got concepts in my brain that people who have never seen never have, but the whole blind skills thing still feels like it’s laid over the top, rather than integrated. Maybe this will change as I get older. Maybe I’m being impatient.

But this is all being horribly negative. Some of positives include my first long cane. Some time not to long after Martin Place, I’d gotten in contact with Guide Dogs NSW/ACT, and was assessed as being eligible for a cane. Or should that be needing? I was walking around basically staring at the ground in front of my feet so that I wouldn’t fall over things, and while it worked on that level, it meant I walked into things instead (and I got a very sore neck, since we’re not built to walk around like that).

A friend and I got taken from Armidale to Coffs Harbour and I spent a week learning to use a cane. This was a skill I picked up surprisingly well, and it’s certainly one of those milestones you call life-changing. This is the only time I’ve spent more than half an hour in Coffs Harbour, and is the first new place I’d been after crossing that 6/60 acuity mark. I still think of the city as a series of disjointed paths, parks, beaches, streets and shopping centres, and the whole thing reminds me that I was starting to believe that this whole blind thing wasn’t actually the end of the world.

Similarly, learning Braille was a similar milestone, though not so much for the learning as the things around learning. I still don’t use Braille anywhere near enough to be proficient, but I can get by. While I learned Grade 1 Braille (the basics) at home with some audio and Braille books and my local worker from the then Royal Blind Society, I had to go to Sydney for two weeks and go to the RBS offices at Enfield, which involved learning a reasonably complex route from a friend’s house in Brookvale. But the bigger thing was this was the first time I spent any amount of time with more than one other blind person. This was also the first time I realised that as a resident of a regional city I was missing out on a lot of blind related things, certainly meeting other people was a big thing, but also the Braille classes and the like were only available in Sydney, and left me at something of a disadvantage. While I’ll blame some of this on the state of NSW, which generally forgets that there’s a lot more to it than Sydney, it’s still an ongoing problem for Vision Australia and others.

These are just a few milestones that spring to my mind around my disability. Of course, there’s lots more that everyone experiences: starting jobs, going out with my now wife and getting married. Pregnancy is proving to be its own series of milestones, and I’m certainly looking forward to the next one when the baby finally comes.

On 28th February the Productivity Commission released their draft report into Disability Support and Care. It’s not been a surprise that they’re recommending the creation of a National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Others will go on about this, and I may even present my opinion sometime soon, but what I wanted to explore now is one of the elements of the report, and how this is making me think about my blindness.

In short the proposal includes four categories of people who would be eligible for coverage by the scheme. The people who would be served by the proposed scheme would:

  • have significant limitations in communication, mobility or self-care (3a)
  • have an intellectual disability (3b)
  • be in an early intervention group (3c)
  • have large identifiable benefits from support that would otherwise not be realised (3d)

At first I couldn’t see where I was supposed to fit into the scheme as a blind person. The more I look; I am forced to conclude that they’re including the blind group in 3a because our communication is limited.

Which lead me to wonder why someone would think that my, or any other blind person’s, ability to communicate is limited.

From my University days I can tell you that Communication is the activity of conveying information. Communication requires a sender, a message and a recipient.

So, let’s look at some forms of communication. Verbal communication is clearly usable by anyone who does not have a hearing problem in the ranges of human speech.

Writing is the representation of language in a textual form, while text is a string of coherent symbols that transmits some form of informative message. While the common form of writing is simply done by marking these coherent symbols on a surface with a substance such as paint, ink, pencil or chalk; letters have been represented tactually in a number of ways.

Text can be embossed on surfaces, and be identified by touch, however the size needed to make these letters usable is comparatively large, and is inefficient for more than a few words. For this reason a number of tactile alphabets have been developed, including Night Writing for the French military, Moon type, New York Point and the most famous: Braille. (See Wikipedia)

Braille is a proven system, and while its falling into some disuse in some areas, it is still important for people to learn. There is a debate around teaching children Braille, while much is available in audio form, or in text form that can be read via computer, learning the alphabet in this way is something many people are passionate about.

The issue with Braille is its use in everyday society. While new buildings are required to include Braille signage, these are so few and far between, you’re unlikely to be running your hands over walls on the off chance you’ll find something readable.

On the topic of body language, Wikipedia cites John Borg in his book Body Language: 7 Easy Lessons to Master the Silent Language, asserting that human communication consists of 93% body language and paralinguistic cues. This leaves only 7% of communication as verbal. So what does this mean for someone who can’t see?

If we hold Borg’s assertion to be true, then it means the blind are missing out on 93% of communication.

Wikipedia contains an entry about eye contact, and while it lacks citation, most of what it contains would appear to be correct. It states:

“Eye contact and facial expressions provide important social and emotional information. People, perhaps without consciously doing so, probe each other’s eyes and faces for positive or negative mood signs. In some contexts, the meeting of eyes arouses strong emotions.” (Wikipedia)

So what happens when you can’t make eye contact? In western society, where eye contact is generally encouraged, not making eye contact can lead to the impression that you’re not paying attention, or that your attention is elsewhere.

Millions of people around the world large amounts of time communicating via the telephone, the internet and via the written word without major problems, so while 93% of communication might be non-verbal, it would seem its not strictly necessary for us to communicate as human beings.

So, as a blind person, is my communication limited. On considering the above points, is this actually a big problem, or just one facet of being blind?

With Braille, the written word was opened up to the blind, however the production of Braille books is comparatively more expensive, and the volumes are considerably larger. With the development of screenreaders, the computer has opened up written works much further, but still within a limited range.

Proprietary formats, the presentation of text as images and poor formatting are still major barriers to a blind person accessing printed materials, even when they’re available in electronic formats. However it’s been claimed that only a small percentage of printed material is available to someone who is blind or has another print disability.

Even with the explosion in ebooks, there have still been major access issues. Amazon Kindle has only recently been updated so that a screen reader user can access kindle books. None of the handheld ebook readers yet include a screen reader for people with a print disability. Issues such as copyright and the desire of some to protect property continue to limit innovation and universal access.

So, that’s me as a receiver. As sender, how is my communication limited? While I can write, I have no reference to do so in an ordered fashion on a straight line. Certainly I can type, and I’ve no problem speaking. As a sender, I’d suggest that my limitations are very small.

So, yes, Productivity Commission, my Communication is limited, but I’ll submit to you that this is not the main problem for the Visually Impaired.

I’m happy to admit that It could be that I only hold this opinion because I became blind at 20, and so the way I think about the world is coloured by the fact I used to be able to see. It might well be that other blind people might wholeheartedly disagree with this point of view.

The thing I find most difficult about being blind is actually my location, my location relative to everything else, and my own ability to navigate and avoid obstacles. This can be on a large scale in the world outside, or it could be in small spaces such as the kitchen at work. Just to re-emphasise the point of my previous post, I don’t feel incompetent or unsafe, but the environment and the people in it are what worries me. It limits my desire to go new places and try new things, this is my challenge, and one I’m working on.

So, at the end of the day, does any of this matter? I think that the way the population thinks about us as people with disabilities is important. Someone mentioned recently that their top five fears included paralysis and going blind, while Nic Steenhout recently blogged about these kinds of perceptions compared to how the disabled viewed themselves (the context is around physician assisted suicide). We all know we’re quite capable in most respects, beyond the confines of our individual impairments, but we’re still educating everybody else.

Can we regard the Productivity Commission as reasonable representatives of those in politics, on the Business Council of Australia or of society more generally? While I can appreciate the need for them to define the scope of who they intend to serve with their proposed scheme, the way in which they chose to identify the groups, seems to me, to be re-enforcing the negatives and perpetuating stereotypes.

As a user of a long cane, there are many things that the general population do that really annoy me.

If you see me, or any other blind person out and about (whether using a cane or a dog) there are right ways and wrong ways of offering help.  Guide Dogs NSW/ACT has made a nice little guide as part of their Don’t Turn a Blind Eye campaign.

It’s also worth mentioning that I’ve done many hours of work with Orientation and Mobility Instructors from Guide Dogs to familiarise myself with places I regularly go, and to learn the skills I need to go anywhere safely.  In addition, after over fourteen years of cane use  I hope that I have a good idea of what I’m doing.

So here, in general terms, I present my five pet hates:

5. The ones who think I’m faking it
This is less common the less I see. But even so, this group represent a particular section of ignorance. These people seem to think that you can either see perfectly, or not at all and so accuse you of “faking it” when something really big and obvious happens and you react. There is a small group, often shop owners who insist on placing displays and signage along the shoreline, who seem to think you’re “faking it” in order to cause them some great inconvenience by falling over their items and injuring yourself and complaining about it. (A shoreline is a clear path of travel which is easily followed using a cane, usually the side of a building. The Australian Human Rights Commission has some great resources around access to premisis and footpaths).

4. The One’s Who Don’t Think They’re Doing Anything Wrong
Like the dazed, these people seem totally oblivious to what’s going on. However, they’re actually not. They seem to feel that they can stand wherever they like and not move, and seem to expect you to know where they are and to move around them. They’re often offended by cane taps to the shoes or ankles.

3. The Dazed
The Dazed are responsible for breaking more canes than any other group of people, including my own foolishness. The dazed often gather in busy public spaces, and then wander around paying no attention to what is going on around them. They will often walk full into a blind person, as they seem to expect everyone else to do the seeing for them, and to dodge them. The secondary type of the dazed are the rushers. These guys also don’t watch where they’re going, but they do it at a rapid pace. There impacts with me and the twisting around my canes have caused several breakages.

2. The Talkers
This one doesn’t happen too often, though it really does top my list as a pet hate. There are occasionally people who will give a running commentary about where you are and what’s around, but not in any way that’s actually helpful. Things like “we’re coming to the top of the escalator” are generally obvious; “keep coming, you’re almost across the street” seems to indicate they think I’ve never crossed a street before; but the most common one is “you’re going to hit that object”, but gives no indication as to where object actually is. At the end of the day, the cane is providing lots of information, and often I’m actually looking for walls, polls and the like because they’re actually landmarks. Landmarks I can’t see, so I need to touch them to get my bearings.

1. The Grabbers
Grabbers are the most downright scary and potentially dangerous group. I’m talking about people who (a) think I don’t know what I’m doing, or think I’m doing it wrong; and (b) without saying a thing will simply grab me, usually by the arm, and attempt to drag me somewhere. So think of being in a crowded dark space, and having someone grab you from behind. What’s your immediate reaction? To be scared? To want to punch the person who’s grabbing you? This is exactly how I feel about grabbers. In addition, being suddenly pulled in one direction or the other can upset your balance. Now think of that on the edge of a train station platform. A slight variation on the theme are those who grab the cane. The cane functions as an extention of the hand, and its held in a fairly precise way to function effectivly, so grabbing the cane is probably worse than grabbing the arm. I once compared cane grabbing to poking someone in the eye.

The blind and visually impared aren’t just given a cane or a dog and sent on their way, since the recognition of the white cane as a mobility aide after Wold War II, many hours have been spent refining techniques, and teaching us how to get about safely. As this information from Guide Dogs NSW/ACT says, if you see someone with a visual impairment about, and you think they might need help, ask first.

My captain Greg and I at Loftus

My captain Greg and I at Loftus after getting through the slow Sydney bit of the ride.

Well, it happened. A team of six tandems (and 10 000 other riders) made their way from Sydney to Wollongong on Sunday morning.

Five Exsight tandems started at Sydney Park, St. Peters at 7:30am, and had a fairly slow ride along the Princess Highway, down to Botany Bay, over Tarren Point Bridge, through the Kingsway at Miranda and around to Loftus. That was the slow part, and little crowded, though we barely had to stop for lights.

After a quick water refill at Loftus, the riders thinned out a bit, and we made good time from Loftus to Waterfall and down into the Royal National Park. The steady decent and winding roads that were closed to traffic, were great and we got to the Hacking River and Lady Wakehurst Drive and started to climb all the way back to the top. We all agreed at the end that the doom-sayer’s who said the hills here were “killer” had exaggerated. Sure, we were starting to feel it by the time we hit the top, but it wasn’t as bad as all that. (As a side note, there were a considerable number of people walking their bikes up. I guess that training came in handy).

Of course that wasn’t quite the end of the climbing. The road evens out a bit as you exit the Royal National Park, and I’m told the views down to Wollongong are spectacular. The road rolls along a while to Otford, and climbs a little higher to hit Bald Hill. Here we were delayed for over 30 minutes, while an ambulance picked up an injured rider (who, according to the following day’s newspaper broke their arm). We’re pretty sure we were at the head of the pack at this point, and the others sneaked past us. Police were controlling traffic at this point, allowing cars periodically through Lawrence Hargrave Drive, and so we were delayed even longer, and it would seem some of the others got through a turn ahead of us.

After all that climbing, we had our reward. The decent down Bald Hill topped out somewhere around 60km/hr, and that was with LOTS of breaking. We rolled through Stanwell Park without peddling. We put some effort into getting into Coalcliff, and coasted down onto the Sea Cliff bridge. Somewhere around here we hit 70-odd km/hr. I think the Sea Cliff bridge is better when you ride north, because the hill out of Clifton/Scarborough is a dossey. Unfortunatly we were riding south. None the less we made it up the other side, and we were defiantly on home territory here.

We rolled along Lawrence Hargrave Drive through Wombarra, Coledale and Austinmer like old hands. Oh, wait, we are. Coming into Thirroul we hit another peak of 67km/hr. We rode the course around to Thirroul beach and through to the bike track that leads to Bulli. From Bulli we turned west a few blocks and road a straight line down Wollongong’s northern suburbs to Fairy Meaddow where we rejoined the bike path at Squires Way, and into Stuart Park.

We made good time, at a good pace. Much fun was had by all.

But this wasn’t all just in fun. The Sydney to the Gong is a fund raising event for MS Australia. Multiple Sclerosis, or MS, is the most common disease of the central nervous system and affects more than 18,000 Australians. MS Australia helps those who have the disease, as well as their families, carers and the community, by offering a wide range of services, equipment and support. Their goal is to assist everyone affected by MS to live life to their fullest potential and secure the care and support they need, until we ultimately find a cure.

Thanks to those of you who have donated to my $585 tally, and the event’s $2.6 million total so far. There’s still a chance if you want to donate as well, head to:
and use the “Donate Now” link on the left hand side of the page (hint: it’s under my ugly mug).

[Or: $15 Please?]

Time is flying.  In an amlost literal sense.  Between keeping up somthing resembling a regular training regeme and the rigours of a workplace that ramps up to 10x normal speed for November, I’ve basically let this blog fall behind.

Rest assured, one and all, that I’ve been riding regularly, both on the exercise bike thingo at home and also out and about on the back-end of tandems over the last couple of weeks.

A couple of things:

1.  Exsight now has a web site: exsighttandems.org.au

2.  WIN TV News, Wollongong did a rather nice piece on the group, which went to air 16th October.  You can see it on the site.

3.  We have Jerseys… well almost.  They’ve arrived and await collection.  You can see  the artists conception at the site too.

Thanks to everyone who’s supported my fundraising efforts… we’re at $585, which is really cool, but I’d love that extra $15.  I like round numbers… somthing about my nerdish nature… or autistic tendancies, maybe?  Let not look at that too hard.

The ride is Sunday, and with a 4:15am pickup, it should be a long day. I am, perhapps foolishly, looking forward to it!

As always, if you’d like to make a last minute donation:


After a subdued weekend of riding last weekend, the weekend just gone saw it kicked up a notch.

On Saturday, four tandems set out from Wollongong and rode on the northern cycleway and Lawrence Hardgraves Drive, over the Sea Cliff Bridge to Coal Cliff and back again.  The ride north is probably a little tougher, with an overall rise, and with the addition of a stiff northerly breeze it was a little tough.  The ride back to Wollongong (after coffee at Thirroul Beach) was a lot quicker, and wind assisted.  Overall that made for a ride of 54.8km.  Subtracting the coffee break, we covered the distance in about 3 hours, averaging around 22km/hr.  Check out the map.

On Sunday, Greg, his mate Dave and I took a spin around Lake Illawarra and back via West Dapto.  Again, there was a bit of wind about, mostly coming from SE though it seemed to have moved a bit more NE by the time we were heading back home.  We covered a distance of about 52km in just under 2hrs, with an average speed of about 27km/hr.  See the map.

All in all, it was a big weekend, and I’m feeling a little sore today.

This Sunday, an Exsight Tandems teem will ride in the Sydney Spring Cycle from St Leonards Park, North Sydney to Olympic Park.  Looking forward to it.

And don’t forget, if you want to support my ride in the Sydney to the Gong, and help me raise funds for MS Australia, please sponsor me.