IN THE EYES OF THE BE­HOLDER

Cer­ti­fied vol­un­teers as­sist vis­ually im­paired run­ners

Global Times – Metro Beijing - - FRONT PAGE - By Du Qiong­fang

At the Shang­hai In­ter­na­tional Marathon held last month, a group of vis­ually im­paired run­ners ap­peared par­tic­u­larly no­table among the tens of thou­sands of other run­ners. Although they were vis­ually im­paired or to­tally blind, they still had the

courage to break through their own lim­its. Run­ning side by side with them were a group of unim­paired guides who acted as their “eyes.” Both vis­ually im­paired run­ners and their unim­paired guides call each other “lan­jin­gling,” which is also the name of the ac­tiv­i­ties or­ga­nized by beYoureyeS, a lo­cal NGO ded­i­cated to pro­mot­ing sports ac­ces­si­bil­ity to make it eas­ier for the vis­ually im­paired to en­joy sports.

In Shang­hai, one of the most mod­ern and cos­mopoli­tan cities in China, it is still not easy for vis­ually im­paired res­i­dents to go wher­ever they want or to par­tic­i­pate in so­cial events, let alone sports ac­tiv­i­ties. How­ever, since beYoureyeS first launched in Jan­uary of 2015, there have been over 13,000 di­rect par­tic­i­pants in­volved in the ac­tiv­i­ties, with the NGO de­liv­er­ing over 55,000 ser­vice hours. They have also or­ga­nized more than 250 dif­fer­ent types of ac­tiv­i­ties, in­clud­ing week­end runs, races and char­i­ta­ble ed­u­ca­tion.

Yu Tao, a 44-year-old vis­ually im­paired res­i­dent of Shang­hai, had very lit­tle op­por­tu­ni­ties to par­tic­i­pate in any run­ning ac­tiv­i­ties prior to join­ing the or­ga­ni­za­tion. He hap­pened to learn about beYoureyeS in 2015 while strolling through Cen­tury Park, where the or­ga­ni­za­tion reg­u­larly holds weekly ex­er­cises. In the be­gin­ning, he was merely cu­ri­ous about how unim­paired guides run with vis­ually im­paired run­ners. But soon he joined in the train­ing.

“They have a very deep un­der­stand­ing about what vis­ually im­paired peo­ple need when they run, and their ac­tiv­ity is very stan­dard and to­tally char­i­ta­ble, which gave me a feel­ing of pos­i­tive en­ergy. So I joined in,” said Yu, who thinks that par­tic­i­pat­ing in such ac­tiv­i­ties can add more color to his monotonous life­style and also im­prove his health.

Ac­cord­ing to Yu, the or­ga­nizer uti­lized many in­ter­na­tional and do­mes­tic meth­ods when they planned their own work­ing stan­dards. “So I felt that they are very pro­fes­sional and ad­vanced when I took part in the ac­tiv­ity for the first time. Be­fore that, I had never en­joyed such pro­fes­sional guided run­ning ac­tiv­i­ties in China,” Yu said.

Sports ac­ces­si­bil­ity

Founders of beYoureyeS, Lu Xiang­dong and Li Jiyuan are a cou­ple who met dur­ing their mu­tual love for marathons and triathlons. In 2012, Li saw a vis­ually im­paired run­ner and a hear­ing im­paired run­ner run­ning side-by-side hold­ing a guid­ing rope dur­ing the Shang­hai In­ter­na­tional Marathon. She had never thought that dis­abled peo­ple could en­joy this sport and was deeply touched.

Dur­ing marathons held in over­seas coun­tries, the cou­ple saw many blind and vis­ually im­paired par­tic­i­pants fin­ish the races with help and sup­port. How­ever, they were un­aware of any sim­i­lar or­ga­ni­za­tions in China that or­ga­nize vol­un­teers to of­fer sup­port to vis­ually im­paired run­ners. So they set up beYoureyeS, hop­ing to pro­mote sports ac­ces­si­bil­ity.

Thus far, Yu has par­tic­i­pated in four half-marathons in Shang­hai, Bei­jing and Suzhou of East China’s Jiangsu Prov­ince. He has also par­tic­i­pated in more than 10 five- and 10-kilo­me­ter races. Apart from run­ning, the or­ga­ni­za­tion also pro­vides op­por­tu­ni­ties for the vis­ually im­paired to make friends and so­cially net­work about mu­tual hob­bies and in­ter­ests.

“I am in­ter­ested in in­for­ma­tion about cut­ting-edge science and tech­nolo­gies and dig­i­tal prod­ucts. One of my run­ning guides is a tech­ni­cal ex­pert from Qual­comm, so I can con­sult him about ques­tions in this field,” Yu told the Global Times, ex­plain­ing that many of their vol­un­teers are in fact elite pro­fes­sion­als from a va­ri­ety of top-tier do­mes­tic in­dus­tries.

“I also trav­eled and went hik­ing with friends who I got to know through this or­ga­ni­za­tion. Be­ing with peo­ple who have dif­fer­ent hob­bies will help me have new ex­pe­ri­ences, which makes me happy,” Yu added.

Im­proved per­son­al­ity

Yu was di­ag­nosed with a very rare eye dis­ease when he was only 10 years old. At the time, this dis­ease could not be treated in China; his eye­sight wors­ened un­til, at the age of 15, he be­came to­tally blind.

Since Yu can­not work, most of his time is spent at home; for most of his life he has ba­si­cally been iso­lated from so­ci­ety. He had few op­por­tu­ni­ties to min­gle with oth­ers un­til fi­nally join­ing beYoureyeS, which he says has changed his life.

“I now have op­por­tu­ni­ties to get out­side and com­mu­ni­cate with dif­fer­ent peo­ple. So my life has much more con­tent than in the pre­vi­ous 20 years,” Yu said. “beYoureyeS not only pro­vides me with new op­por­tu­ni­ties to do sports, but also gives me more chances to par­tic­i­pate in reg­u­lar life ex­pe­ri­ences.”

“You sel­dom see vis­ually im­paired peo­ple go­ing out­side, let alone see them run­ning. It is not be­cause there are fewer vis­ually im­paired peo­ple in China than in over­seas coun­tries, but be­cause it is very in­con­ve­nient for them to walk on the side­walks here,” Lu told the Global Times.

“My wife and fam­ily mem­bers also sup­port me in join­ing

these ac­tiv­i­ties, be­cause they found that I have be­come less shy and more open and cheer­ful, and my health has also greatly im­proved,” Yu said.

Ac­cord­ing to Yu, some vis­ually im­paired par­tic­i­pants must spend up to four to five hours get­ting to and from event venues even though the du­ra­tion of their run­ning time is less than two hours.

“You can imag­ine the lone­li­ness and bore­dom they feel dur­ing these long trips, which can be re­lieved by the joy of par­tic­i­pat­ing in so­cial and sports ac­tiv­i­ties,” Yu added.

More char­ity in so­ci­ety

Chen Xiaobin had no in­ter­est in sports due to his blind­ness, which re­sulted from glau­coma when he was 14 years old. “The most di­rect change to my life af­ter I joined beYoureyeS was that it forced me to get out­side more of­ten,” said Chen, who ex­plained that he used to de­pend on his fam­ily mem­bers or unim­paired guides to pick him up and take him to and from such ac­tiv­i­ties. Now he can make his own way.

As a trainer for unim­paired guides, Chen also thinks ev­ery­one in the or­ga­ni­za­tion can de­velop their own unique skills. “For ex­am­ple, my ca­pac­ity is in teach­ing new par­tic­i­pants,” Chen said, adding that vol­un­teers gain more from help­ing oth­ers than what they sac­ri­fice.

Forty-six-year-old Lu Xiaoyan used to have very lit­tle per­se­ver­ance and of­ten found ex­cuses to be lazy. But since join­ing the or­ga­ni­za­tion, she has looked for­ward to go­ing out run­ning three times a week. She and Yu Tao both live near Cen­tury Park, so they meet ev­ery Tues­day and Thurs­day to jog to­gether.

“I am touched by their spirit,” Lu told the Global Times. “For or­di­nary peo­ple, run­ning is easy; you can go out when­ever you want. But it is im­pos­si­ble for the blind to go out run­ning on their own. So I ap­pre­ci­ate their good at­ti­tude and pos­i­tive en­ergy. I like pro­vid­ing this sup­port for them. The joy I get from this or­ga­ni­za­tion makes up for the time and ef­fort I ex­pend on or­ga­niz­ing it all,” Lu said.

“I hope char­i­ta­ble or­ga­ni­za­tions like beYoureyeS can be­come more widely known and rec­og­nized through­out Shang­hai and China. If more Chi­nese peo­ple can re­gard such char­i­ta­ble or­ga­ni­za­tions as es­sen­tial to the ad­vance­ment of our so­ci­ety, I be­lieve that more in our so­ci­ety will even­tu­ally be pro­moted at all lev­els of life,” Yu said.

Photo: Yang Hui/GT

Yu Tao, a 44-year-old vis­ually im­paired run­ner (left) tests a guide. The guide will re­ceive a “Dabai” (cer­ti­fied guide) rank if he passes the ex­am­i­na­tion.

Unim­paired peo­ple re­ceive train­ing on how to as­sist vis­ually im­paired peo­ple through nar­row pas­sages.

Pho­tos: Yang Hui/GT

Top: A vis­ually im­paired run­ner and a guide run to­gether with a rope.Left: Chen Xiaobin trains new guides on how to use a rope to guide.

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