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Fun at the Olympic White Water Centre! - Paul's Blog

Hello There!

If you are following the Home of Gift Experiences for Disabled People on Twitter or Facebook, you will know that I was at Lee Valley White Water Centre a week or so ago! The Lee Valley White Water Centre was developed to host the Slalom Canoeing event for the London 2012 Olympics and it really is an amazing venue!

Lee Valley White Water Centre

The reason for my visit to Lee Valley was to provide them with some consultancy and help to make the white water rafting as accessible as possible whilst maintaining the centres high safety standards.

The water at Lee Valley is some of the highest graded white water in the UK (If not the highest!) and as such, the centre are understandably, very safety conscious. In order to take part in white water rafting at Lee Valley, it is necessary for all participants to undertake a safety briefing and assessment to demonstrate their ability to be confident and safe in moving water.

It became clear very quickly from talking to the team at Lee Valley that they are keen to make the amazing experience of being on the Olympic white water course as accessible to as many people as possible. However, this accessibility cannot come at the cost of people’s safety!

Dream Team!

As well as myself, Tom Lyons from National Deaf Childrens Society and Jennie Williams from Enhance The UK were also at the white water centre. Between the three of us, we focused on the accessibility for Deaf and Visually Impaired participants.

We were working with Paskell Blackwell who is the Assistant Manager at Lee Valley White Water Centre. Paskell is responsible for the operation and everything that happens on the water and to top it off, he's the captain of the GB White Water Rafting Team!

The Safety Briefing

After talking through the safety briefing and assessment, we were able to identify the main barriers for Deaf and Visually Impaired people. Then it was off to put ourselves to the test! The plan was to put myself (Completely Blind) and Jennie (Hard of Hearing) through the Safety Briefing and Assessment to look at the particular barriers and try and find ways to overcome them.

The safety briefing was superb, we did manage to come up with some suggestions on how they may make it more accessible, be it a little more tactile for a Visually Impaired person and a video with BSL for Deaf people.

The Safety Assessment

Once through the briefing, we were off to the assessment! Jennie was showing signs of nervousness, she wasn't looking forward to taking her hearing aids out and jumping into the moving water! The team were excellent and were great at assuring us all that we wouldn't be in any danger. I wasn't so bad as I had been in white water in the past through the work that I have done with one of our suppliers here at the home of gift experiences for disabled people!

Jennie got in and was in fact absolutely fine, and once in, her confidence grew and she had no problem with the assessment. I on the other hand had a little more work to do! There were 2 key elements to consider for Visually Impaired people and this was the ability to grab a safety rope and also to control direction when in the defensive swimming position. To really test the boundaries, I put myself into the fast moving water and attempted to direct myself and grab a safety rope. Thanks to a superb throw by the safety staff, the rope landed perfectly and I was able to grab it, however, the accuracy of a throw cannot be guaranteed, which is why you need to be able to direct yourself when in the defensive swimming position.

When it came to the defensive swimming position, I found Directing and orientating myself was incredibly difficult! Without the ability to see obstacles and navigate around them, I would be left exposed and would most definitely pick up an injury had I fallen out of a raft mid way through the course!

Did we go White Water Rafting?

Of course we did! Despite Paskell's concerns about the safety of severely sight impaired people like myself, he did let me have a go at White Water Rafting on the Olympic course! He was happy to do this as we were the only people on the course and he would make a special exception and jump in after me if I fell in (What a Guy!).


Getting hands on with the safety assessment allowed us to suggest some simple adaptions such as high visibility jackets for safety staff, consistent signs for staff to use to indicate what they want people in the water to do and a few other considerations such as audio safety ropes. The overall conclusion was that the white water centre could make some small changes to make the experience more accessible to both Visually Impaired and Deaf people.

Fancy going White Water Rafting?

Then visit our White Water Rafting Gift Experience page where you can get all the info and purchase the fun and exciting experience! It's worth noting that the white water centre we work with doesn't have the same limitations as that of Lee Valley, due to it not being at an Olympic level grading. As such, the experience is more accessible for disabled people. If you want to know more, please do just give us a call.

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