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November 13, 2002

Walk of life...

From: Northampton Chronicle and Echo, UK
Nov.13, 2002

MICHAEL Williamson doesn't have a white stick, a guide dog or in fact any obvious sign that he is both deaf and blind.

However, for much of his adult life his disabilities robbed him of self-confidence and kept him a virtual prisoner in his Northampton home.
“I had become inward looking and isolated. I listened to the news and knew what was going on in the world, but I didn't know what was happening on my own doorstep.
“I didn't like myself very much. I locked myself away from things which were dangerous and when you're deaf and blind that's pretty much everything.”
Considering, he spent years shying away from everyday contact with others, it is even more amazing that next October he will travel to the Far East to walk a 100-mile stretch of the Great Wall of China for charity.
The change has not happened overnight, but after a little over two years of working with Val Swann, of Northamptonshire County Council's Deafblind Guide-Help Scheme, Michael is now as confident and articulate as any other thirty something.
“My hearing remains pretty much the same, but my vision changes day to day – the best way to describe it is that I see like a bad Channel Five reception. I can communicate with people in front of me, if they speak clearly, but just going shopping can be a nightmare.
“One of the reasons I liked to be on my own was because I could flood the house, scald myself with hot water or drop food on the floor and no one would see my mistakes.
“I'm not sure what finally made me contact Val. She had been dropping flyers round to my house for six months and one day I rang them.
“I suppose I just didn't realise there was help out there. I had never even met another deafblind person.”
Val, who works in partnership with Deafblind UK, has helped Michael accept his disabilities and he can now laugh off the problems which day-to-day life presents.
“I have been stood at the roadside a few times and asked for help, but because I don't look deaf or blind people think I'm some sort of thug about to mug them.
“I've had a few run ins with cars and bikes, particularly those cyclists who insist in riding on the pavements. It's them who cause the real problems. When people ask me how you cross the road when you're deaf and blind and the only honest answer is ‘Carefully’.”
Val first came into contact with Michael after overhearing a conversation about his less than successful visit to the doctors and Michael admits that if it had not been for that he might still have only his radio for company.
“He was a good doctor, very precise, but he had a strong South African accent which was very difficult for me to understand. I think he got frustrated and told me to pull myself together.”
The two now regularly meet up and with Val at his side, Michael, who has also completed a business studies course at University College Northampton, is now finally able to take advantage of the opportunities open to him.
“I consciously decided that I didn't want white stick or a guide dog. I don't want people to know, I want to be as independent as possible and Val has allowed me to achieve that.
“I know business courses are two a penny nowadays, but it was good for me. Colleges are used to dealing with people with disabilities. Like a lot of things, I could do it but it took me longer than normal.
“I've met more people in the last two years than I've met in the rest of my lifetime and now I'm out and about I've also lost about three stone.”
It is no exaggeration to say each day has provided some new achievement, but Michael's major breakthrough came last year when he addressed a 200-strong meeting about the realities of being deafblind.
It almost didn't happen when he experienced last minute nerves, but now he is committed to supporting Deafblind UK, the charity which helped transform his life with the first challenge a sponsored walk along the Great Wall of China.
“I've learnt most things by trial and error. You only need to look at the amount of accidents I've had to see that, but you can only learn by your mistakes if you get out there and experience things.
“My going to China I want to reach out to people out in my position.”
In physical terms Michael, who will be accompanied with Val and another guide, is already working on his fitness, but having already overcome the far greater mental obstacles, failure is not an option.
“I want the walk to be the start of something, rather than the end of something. What challenge will I do next? The possibilities are endless.”

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