He’s a human ‘guide dog’ for the blind, their all-seeing eye and fun-loving companion. Rachael Clegg chatted to Glyn Jones from Sheffield, a man who has spent years travelling as a sighted companion on blind people’s holidays.
GLYN Jones has his wits about him on holiday. He has to.
The 52-year-old from Whiston doesn’t go away to relax - he vacations to act as the eyes for blind people from across the UK.
Glyn travels with Traveleyes, a Yorkshire-based company that specialises in holidays for blind people. And Glyn is one of its most loyal devotees.
“It’s great - the people you meet and the places you go are amazing,” he said. “This year I’m going to America and Sri Lanka as a sighted traveller.”
His work means Glyn accompanies groups of blind people and acts as their ‘eyes’.
He describes to them their foreign surroundings, familiarises them with any written information - and sometimes even assesses the opposite sex.
It is a responsible job - Glyn’s descriptions directly affect his blind companion’s perceptions and experiences of a particular place.
“Your job is to describe what you can see and what they can’t,” he said. “You’d describe the terrain of a desert or the night sky and, in some cases, with the younger men, you might describe the nice ladies at the bar!
“But it all depends on the person. Some visually-impaired people don’t want too many descriptions whereas others want to know every detail about what a place looks like. You do get to learn a lot doing it.”
Being a sighted traveller also means Glyn joins in with some of the activities blind travellers want to do.
“You get a feel for what they will want to do on their holiday,” he said. “Some people will want to go to a motor museum or be ridden around on a motorbike. I love that. I’m not someone who likes sitting on a beach for a week anyway.”
Some of the blind travellers were born blind, or lost their sight at a very early age, whereas others became blind later on in life. Such differences have a big impact on the way he does his job.
“There is a big difference between those people who have always been blind and those who have been able to see at some point in their life,” he said.
“Many of the people on a trip are partially sighted too. But the people who have no sight whatsoever don’t know what, for example, ‘blue’ is.
“One man I’ve travelled with fell off scaffolding at the age of 23 and the accident severed his optic nerve which cost him his sight. Now he’s 50, but it’s easy describing to him because he knows what colours are.”
Glyn has had lots of exotic experiences as a sighted traveller. He has fed lions, stroked crocodiles, and travelled to Egypt.
“You get to do a lot of things you wouldn’t normally do,” he said. “We had an hour with a dolphin and a private coach on one trip and last year we were at the Queen’s garden party.”
Inspiration to help blind people on holiday came from a former girlfriend, from Holland.
“I used to go out with a girl who was involved with the equivalent of the RNIB in Holland,” said Glyn. “When she came over here she’d always want to visit Tapton Mount School for the Blind and I used to go with her.”
It was during their visits that Glyn decided to get involved with helping blind people. But it’s not just the activities that have impressed Glyn to what the world has to offer.
“I’m just a working lad from Woodhouse but the people I have met doing the sighted travel trips are amazing. I’ve met people from all walks of life and made some really good friends.
“I was best man for one friend I met during one of the trips.”
It still costs Glyn to go on the Traveleyes trips, though he gets a discounted rate because of his help as a sighted traveller.
“It costs me about £900 for the trips, which are usually long-haul and two weeks, but it’s worth it. We have such a laugh and I love meeting new people.”