Tony Giles has travelled to every continent … alone … except for Antarctica as the trip organizers were insistent that he have a companion for the excursion. This is something few people can say they have done. When you consider that Tony is totally blind and, without his hearing aids, is 80% deaf in both ears, this young man's adventures become something that few of us can even imagine. He has hiked in the Rocky Mountains, Canada (solo) has put his feet in the Arctic Ocean and crossed the Arctic Circle. He has walked, floated, glided and been in many places most of us just dream about visiting. Travel is his passion, and to date he has journeyed to more than 80 countries – his goal is to visit every country in the world.
I learned about Tony through the Eyes on Success interview called Extreme Travel and immediately visited his website. The more I read about him the more I want to publish his 'story' with the DAISY Planet newsletter. In his Biography we find out how Tony came to be the young man he is today. With his permission the first part of his Biography is reprinted here as Tony's story. Actually, it is just the beginning of his story. However, you can pick up his Biography where this excerpt leaves off, read about his adventures in articles such as the Blind – but that won't stop me seeing the world published by the Bristol Evening Post in 2011, and numerous other articles published between 2007 and 2012 in the Press Articles on Tony's website. Seeing The World My Way published in 2010 is his first book which is available from Silverwood Books (the publisher), BristolBooks (as an EPUB eBook), and from Amazon. It has been produced in braille (grades 1 and 2) and as a DAISY audio book by the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) – Tony is a member of the RNIB library which he describes as "fantastic". His book has also been translated into Polish. Tony is currently in the process of editing his second book.
The photos included here are from Tony's Photo Gallery (used with his permission). As they are from his travels, they do not correspond with the timeframe in this excerpt.
Tony Giles – Blind Independent Traveller
I was born, Anthony Eric Giles, in the seaside town of Weston-Super-Mare, south-west England, on 6th September 1978.
I was about 9 months old when a problem was discovered with my sight. It was eventually realised through an ophthalmologist that I had a rare genetic visual impairment.
I was born with Cone Dystrophy and Photo Phobia. This means I have no colour nerves in the back of my eye, greatly exposing my optic nerve to light. Hence, my Photo Phobia (light sensitivity).
I spent my first few years of life living in darkness whenever possible. I was eventually given dark glasses, which I wore indoors and outside until about the age of 17 or 18.
I played in the street with my non-disabled friends, learning to listen for traffic. My street was a cul-de-sac and I knew the traffic came from one direction.
I attended a day school for the disabled in Bristol from the age of five. This was a journey of 20 miles (30 kilometres) in a taxi – I was often car sick. By using my light sensitivity, I learnt to read and write. I could see large black lines on white paper. I learnt the alphabet and numeracy. I also could play snooker by detecting the different balls through shade. I had my rods, the nerve cells to help me see black and white images and shade. However, by the age of 9 or 10, this light vision was beginning to lessen.
My eye condition has never changed, but my pain threshold became stronger, and my light sensitivity lessened as print got smaller and more complex. I stopped using my lenses as it became harder to view objects.
By the age of 10, I had stopped learning and needed a new medium to continue my education.
When aged about six, it was discovered that I was partially deaf in both ears. This appears to be from a related genetic condition. I was given analogue hearing aids. My hearing has become progressively worse over the years. At present, I am about 75-80% deaf without my hearing aids. I now wear digital aids, which are fantastic.
In the Spring of 1989, I was sent to the boarding school for the blind and visually impaired in Coventry. I was aged 10 and a half; it changed my life and this is where I eventually gained my independence.
I spent six years at Exhall Grange School in Coventry in the West Midlands. I was given mobility training, whereby I learnt how to use a long cane, catch public transport, and find locations. I received fantastic training. I also learnt Braille: the blind person’s method of reading and writing through a series of six dots in two vertical lines of three. These six dots in different combinations create the entire alphabet and numbers. I used it up to A-Level mathematics.
I engaged in all subjects, from pottery to swimming, chemistry to athletics, as well as the usual academic subjects.
I took my GCSE exams in the Summer of 1995 (GCSE are exams taken at the end of high/secondary school in England, at about the age of 15-16). I pass the majority of my subjects with a C grade and gained a B in Information Technology. I failed my English and Maths.
I next went to the Royal National College for the Blind in Hereford to undertake my A-Levels. Academic studies to enable me to enter university if I chose.
I had wanted to become a physiotherapist, but was informed that having a dual disability would prevent me from pursuing this career.
At boarding school in Coventry, I had been exposed to children with different disabilities. This gave me a sense that being blind and partially deaf was not the worst disability in life. Some of my friends had walking difficulties, speech impairments, asthma, seizures and a variety of other conditions. I considered myself lucky. My best friend had Muscular Dystrophy, a muscle wasting disease and was slowly dying. This had a significant impact on me. He died just as I began my courses at RNC Hereford, October 1995. My Dad had died of old age only two months previously and I found myself in a strange place, without friends, alone and full of grief. I eventually turned towards alcohol and studies as a refuge…
Editor's Note: Please visit Tony's website, Tony Giles – Blind Independent Traveller to find out how he turned his life around, receiving a Degree with Honours in American Studies, followed by a masters degree in Transatlantic Studies (History of US Foreign Policy) at the University of Birmingham, England. He has also provided a page that lists all 81 of the Countries, Islands and Principalities he has visited. You may also wish to listen to the audio recording of the Eyes on Success interview with Tony called Extreme Travel (show number 1319).