A blind Perthshire man has achieved a Gold Duke of Edinburgh Award
Will Kent is 21, lives in Forgandenny, and has Stargardt disease, an inherited eye condition that affects the macula of the eye. From his diagnosis at age nine, Will was severely sight impaired, he became completely blind by adulthood.
A keen outdoorsman, Will decided to complete the Duke of Edinburgh Award. He recently achieved Gold to go alongside his Bronze and Silver Award. To do so, he completed each of the award’s volunteering, physical, expedition and residential challenges.
Will explains: "For sport, I did horse riding as well as tandem bike riding. For my skill section, I did some poetry writing – this involved writing an Old Norse style of poetry, which was good fun but a bit of a pain! And I worked at a local dog shelter helping out where I could for my volunteering section, though the dogs were always misbehaving!
“For the residential aspect I struggled to find a place that would accept me and my sight loss – but eventually I was able to go to the Ancient Technology Centre in Dorset, which was great. It involved fighting with swords, which I liked!
“In terms of the expedition section - they weren't really any adaptions for being blind or partially sighted, which was interesting at times. One aspect being that I had to look at the map and plot a route - I ended up leading my group far off-course!”
Despite being so active and outgoing, Will has experienced barriers during his sight loss journey, saying: “I remember once the local theatre group wouldn't let me on stage, because they thought I’d be a fall hazard!
“An assumption when you're blind is that you can't do something, when maybe you actually can.”
Will adds: “I've always enjoyed the outdoors so doing a Duke of Edinburgh Award was a good opportunity. When I completed my Gold Award, I was proud – but exhausted!
“I do a lot of walking with my dogs and walking on my own - a lot of people assume I'm not blind because I'll walk anywhere, so much so my nickname is strider! Additionally, I like tandem riding, kayaking, paddleboarding and horse riding.”
Will believes there are ways in which public places and attractions can be more accessible for blind and partially sighted people. He says: “Most public spaces could have high contrast steps, just to make things safer and more accessible. Attractions such as museums could have more audio description and interactive material so that blind and partially sighted people have increased confidence to visit.
“For example, I went to the Jorvik Viking Centre in York, and they were great in how accommodating they were and how they made things as accessible as possible.”
Will and his dad, Leslie also want to encourage other blind and partially sighted people to achieve their ambitions. Will says: “For anyone wanting to do something similar, I'd say try to avoid the barriers, embrace the challenge, prove it can be done and have good fun whilst doing it!”
Leslie, Will’s father, adds: “As a parent, you shouldn't limit your child’s horizons if they are visually impaired, because there are so many things they can do.”
Will’s love of the outdoors has sometimes got him into trouble, as he says: “Before I was completely blind, me and my family climbed Snowdon mountain, and when we reached the top there was a queue for the peak.
“I saw a clear and snowy path that nobody else seemed to have noticed, so I went towards it. Suddenly, a hand grabbed me and yanked me back. As it turns out, it was a cloud!”
Will was presented with his Gold Award at a celebration event, which took place at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh on the 6th of July.