For Disability History Month, Helena Mattingley our Head of Diversity & Inclusion, has shared her experiences travelling around Amsterdam with her mother who has low-sight. 

Last week I went to the Netherlands. I have been to Amsterdam many times before; I’ve typically been relatively independent, happily travelling through the city and following my own interests.

This time, I was very much trying to see it through my mother’s eyes, i.e. with very limited sight.

Crossing a road for me – look twice each way and made a dash across the pavement, cycle lane and tram tracks.

Crossing a road for her – listening for the beep-beep of a crossing, hearing the ‘ding’ of a tram move away, and seeing a smudge of colour move across a road.

Working out a route to Vondelpark for me – logging into and googlemaps.

Working out a route to Vondelpark for her – seeking directions from a local, asking the bus driver if they are stopping at museumplein, listening out for every announcement on the bus until she’s there.

Buying groceries for me – looking for recognisable icons, translating a few words on my phone.

Buying groceries for her – taking a gamble on whether you’ve just bought a carton of milk or pouring yogurt for coffee.

I’m independent. I don’t want to ask for advice from Amsterdammers, to reveal my abysmal handful of Dutch words, or to show I can’t work out something on my own. However, with my intrepid mother, I spoke to more Dutch people than any previous visit, received far more kindness, including finding out about Free Wine. Things change when you change your approach.

I am not trying to en-noble living with impaired sight, I know that mum would love to be able to see more and that it really affects how she engages with the world. It can be rubbish a lot of the time.  What I want to focus on is how we can change, and how adapting alters the way the world interacts with us.

What I want to learn from her is that she is brave enough to be vulnerable, show trust in strangers, and that this can be positive. She used to be as self-sufficient as me – and in many ways she still is completely self-sufficient – just her definition recognises that knowing we can rely on others is a predictable resource. While I am reliant on a smart phone and insulated from others, she can get information from almost anyone she meets – no battery required.