Hiplok X British Blind Sport

When the founders of Hiplok decided to select a company charity at the start of 2023, they invited the team to nominate charities close to their heart, ideally with a local or sporting connection.

When Hiplok’s COO, Maria, pitched her charity of choice, it was a clear winner. Here she explains why British Blind Sport is a charity so important to her and the amazing work they do...


Thomas is my 6 year old nephew. He’s loveable, funny, determined. He is also Vision Impaired (VI).

Through Thomas, my family and I have become familiar with a national charity, called British Blind Sport (BBS). 

Who are British Blind Sport?

BBS’s mission is to ensure that people with sight loss have the same opportunities as sighted people to access and enjoy sport.  They support VI athletes all the way from grass roots to the Paralympic Games. And they also run regular “Have A Go Days”. These are multi-sport taster events for blind and partially sighted people of all ages, allowing them to participate in sports they otherwise wouldn’t have access to. 

British Blind Sport

There are often shortfalls when it comes to physical education for children in schools. Health & safety concerns mean that many VI kids are excluded from team sports, and other physical activities. They are often seen as too risky without greater supervision, which many schools or clubs can’t fund, or aren’t trained to manage.

Team sports and physical education are key to a young person’s development and wellbeing, and feeling “different” is really hard for anyone. It can result in feeling isolated, excluded and can impact both your physical and mental wellbeing.  According to the Sport England Active People Survey, people who are blind or partially sighted have the second-lowest participation rates of all impairment groups.

British Blind Sport seeks to break down those barriers. They encourage VI children to participate in different sports (with adjustments to equipment, such as jingle balls). And they provide coaching workshops for PE teachers/coaches.

My nephew, Thomas

Thomas, is one of the most awesome people on this planet.  He and my son are similar ages and have been best friends from birth.  Like many kids, he loves dressing up – accessories are his jam!  He regularly dons a cloak, a crown, bracelets, necklaces (light up ones are his favourite) and he loves to perform.  Just like my son, he loves adventure playgrounds, roller-coasters, swimming, arts and crafts and whizzing around the park on his scooter.  However, Thomas is certified as severely sight impaired (registered blind).

Thomas, wearing baseball cap and sunglasses due to his condition achromotopsia.
Thomas, wearing baseball cap and sunglasses due to his condition achromotopsia.

He has a rare genetic condition, called achromotopsia. This means, in addition to very poor vision generally, he cannot see colour, at all. He sees the world in black, white & shades of grey.  He is also very photo-sensitive and is entirely blinded by bright sunlight, so he always wears a baseball cap and dark glasses outside (and sometimes inside, depending on the surroundings).  This means that in school, he requires support in the form of a tablet, which can enlarge text or printed materials with a much larger font.  Colour based learning, which is understandably very common at a young age, has to be adapted. Similarly, break times, where kids develop their social interaction skills outside in the playground, are harder for him.

Taking it in his stride

That said, Thomas takes all of this in his stride. Other than his very cool shades, you wouldn’t know Thomas was any different to any other kid in the park.  It’s his normal.  As a family, you become very aware of how colour-centric so much of our world is, particularly for kids. But also you become pretty inventive at finding ways to adapt.  Our view, taking our lead from my sister and brother-in-law, is very much, “how can we include this activity in Thomas’s life?”, rather than avoiding things that revolve around colour.   There are obstacles in every kid’s life, whether they have disabilities or not. But learning to navigate around them, rather than letting them defeat you, is an important message every parent tries to teach their children.

Twister is his favourite game to play as a family.  Instead of relying on colour, we just got out a big sharpie and switched it up – blue becomes number 1, yellow is 2 and so on… 

Twister is one of Thomas' favourite games.
Twister is one of Thomas’ favourite games.

Now that he can read, all his colouring pencils have the name of the colour written on them. Although he doesn’t see colours the same as everyone else, it doesn’t mean he’s not aware that there are differences between them. In fact, the older he gets, the more inquisitive he is about the colour of things.

There are things, like driving a car or a motorbike, that we know may not be in Thomas’s future. However, with developments in autonomous cars, never say never!  But if he wants to be a professional sportsperson, then that isn’t off the table. The Paralympics has shown us that. And with support from charities like British Blind Sport, the journey to greatness has a map for young people with sight loss to follow.

Have a Go Days

I was lucky enough to volunteer at a ‘Have a Go Day’ last summer, at the IBSA World Games. I saw, first hand, the positive impact these days have on people with sight loss and their families, not to mention the awareness that it brings to the general public. 

There were various sports set up at University of Birmingham campus over the course of a week. These included Blind Football, Blind Rugby, Blind Cricket, Blind Tennis, Judo and two sports which were developed specifically for blind and partially sighted people, Goalball and Showdown. 

Given visual impairment is a spectrum, players are sometimes required to wear an eye mask to block out all vision, to level the playing field. This also means that fully sighted people can “have a go” and experience what it’s like to play these games.

Goalball

I tried Goalball – which has been described as reverse-dodgeball. The objective of the game is to throw a bell-filled ball using a bowling motion into the opponent’s net. Meanwhile, the opposing three players try to block the ball with their bodies.

It’s very physical. You’re basically jumping to your feet, whilst also trying to figure out where on earth the ball is, just from the sound the bells inside it make, and flinging yourself to the floor to stop it going in the net.  Check it out on YouTube and you’ll be impressed.

Rugby and Football were much harder than I expected as a sighted person. But it did give me the tiniest insight into what it would be like to be blind or partially sighted and how much peripheral noise can disorient you if you can’t rely on vision. I didn’t last 5 minutes with the eye-mask. But Thomas doesn’t have the option to take the eye mask off.

Showdown

Showdown was a lot of fun! The format of the game is similar to air hockey. It’s played on a high-sided table with a central screen, and a small jingle ball rather than a puck.  You use a small paddle to hit the ball across the table, whilst your opponent tries to keep it out of the “net”. 

Showdown - a game very similar to air hockey
Showdown – one of the activities hosted by British Blind Sport

It’s easy to see why sport participation rates for people with sight loss are low. But you also see how transformative it can be to someone’s life, to find something they enjoy and can be passionate about.

Trying all these sports wearing an eyemask really brought it home to me. The effort and commitment it would take to reach Paralympic standard is incredible. I am even more in awe of Paralympians than I was before. 

These sports are just some of the activities that British Blind Sport introduce people with sight loss to. The “Have a Go Days” take place around the UK and bring together around 40 people with sight loss. They are often supported by local clubs and activities in their area. Team GB Paralympian athletes regularly attend these events too! They share their journey and the obstacles that they have overcome in pursuit of their dream.

This year, Hiplok are proud to be supporting GB Triathletes, Oscar Kelly and his Guide, Charlie Harding, as they work towards the Paralympic Games in Paris 2024.

Fundraising Efforts

In 2023 Team Hiplok’s fundraising efforts helped to deliver two ‘Have a Go Days’. This included sponsored cycling events – Ride London, Dragon Ride Wales and more sedentary activities such as the Great Hiplok Bake Off. Not bad for our first year, especially considering the size of our small team. But we have our sights set on growing that target!

Team Hiplok fundraising for British Blind Sport at Ride London 2023!

At all the “Have A Go Days”, participants leave with a goodie-bag, which includes a twin pack of our Lime Z LOKs. Neon colours are great (in general) for people with sight loss which is why we chose this product as a giveaway. 

Z LOKs are also very versatile. Not only are they ideal bike locks for café stops, but they also make great kids bike/scooter locks. They also work really well for securing all sorts of outdoor equipment.  As a keen camper, I always keep a few close by for locking up the tent, paddleboards, scooters etc.

Hiplok will also donate all proceeds from sales of our Lime Z LOK on hiplok.com in 2024 to BBS. With your support, we can help BBS to deliver even more activities to people with sight loss and make sport more accessible to everyone. 

Proceeds from sales of Lime Z LOK Twin Pack will be donated to British Blind Sport

As a team, we also plan to selflessly eat a lot more cake this year and do a few more fundraising events. You’ll no doubt get to read all about later in the year. But for now, happy riding.

For more information on British Blind Sport visit their website, or follow on Instagram.

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