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Make your snow sledging trip a success with our tips for children who have vision impairment

Snow, ice, slopes…an activity nightmare or a winter wonderland? Karen Hirst and Craig Brown from Action for Blind People (which has since merged with RNIB) share their top tips for taking children with vision impairment on a sledging trip to the snow.

Image: A young boy sledging through snow and smiling.

Taking 50 children and young people with vision impairment (VI) ice-sledging might not be everyone’s idea of a stress-free way to spend a Saturday afternoon, but since its inception three years ago, this event is now the highlight of the Yorkshire and Humber Actionnaires winter calendar.

So, what goes into organising such an ambitious event? Well, it certainly doesn’t need much promotion; sledging sells itself and we are always over-subscribed. By far the biggest challenge is the risk assessment. There are many factors to consider, any of which could potentially prevent a child from safely and happily participating in the activity.

First, there’s the noise. Even before reaching the slopes, our children and young people have to navigate their way through a cacophony of excited voices, background music and crowds of people jostling for equipment.

Then the slopes themselves can be really disorientating; any shouted instructions are lost to the high ceilings and protective headgear. Clear and concise information, therefore, is always given before we leave the meeting room.

Extremes in lighting can also cause problems, as the brightness of the slope itself is troublesome for many. Add to that the significant drop in temperature and the increased risk of slips, falls and collisions on the ice, and you have the perfect cocktail of risk that must be mitigated before you decide to go ahead. And, as with any event involving children, there’s always the issue of ensuring their safety amongst crowds.

Our top tips for a successful event

  • Staffing: It’s essential to have a good, well-briefed team of staff and volunteers. Ensure everyone is familiar with the risk assessment and knows exactly what is expected of them on the day. It’s always a good idea to have ‘floating’ staff who can deal with any unplanned incidents or simply help button up coats and fasten helmets.
  • Research your venue thoroughly: Is it accessible? Do the staff there need visual awareness training? Do they have any experience of supporting groups with VI? We were reassured to discover that the manager of Snozone had organised tennis tournaments for people with VI and was able to anticipate many of the needs of our children and young people.
  • Planning and preparation: Make sure you factor in the time it will take for 50 children (plus accompanying adults) to get themselves dressed and ready to attack the slopes. Having a supply of spare socks, gloves and tissues (there are always runny noses!) is also crucial. Trying to pack too much into the event is definitely to be avoided; sledging, a bit of party food and a few awards is entertainment enough. At our first event the party games and piñata unfortunately fell foul to the extra time it took to remove wet clothing and footwear.

Without a doubt the driving force behind this event is fun, but there are wider benefits to consider too. Groups can be organised so that participants are encouraged to not only develop new friendships, but also offer support to younger children or those with less sight than them. Winter sports develop confidence, whether through overcoming a fear of speed, heights or simply by offering the opportunity to be involved in an ‘extreme’ activity. Finally, as anyone who has ever tried sledging will tell you, there are physical benefits too. If you leave the slopes without a pounding heart or aching legs, you haven’t really been trying!