Shared Journeys: Tandem Biking Unites Blind and Sighted Riders
June 3, 2023
Blind and partially sighted people from Gradiška experienced an exciting bike ride for the first time in their lives with the help of the City Organization of the Blind (GOS) from this city. Today, June 3, when World Bicycle Day is celebrated, GOS sends a message about the importance of creating an inclusive and accessible environment for all individuals, including those with disabilities.
The incredible citizens of Gradiška who enjoy cycling with the help of mentors despite the absence of sight are proof that all obstacles and expectations can be overcome. Among them is 36-year-old Vanja Grandić, who embarked on an exciting adventure on two wheels.
The last independent bicycle ride that Grandić remembers was in the 90s, when she was a little girl. She lost her sight at the age of eight due to difficult health circumstances, which changed her life completely. Access to many activities was denied to her, but the desire for them never left.
Vanja couldn't even imagine that years later, even without her sight, she would ride a bike again. The opportunity was presented to her when the City Organization of the Blind in Gradiška acquired a tandem bicycle as part of the Regional Programme on Local Democracy in the Western Balkans 2 (ReLOaD2) funded by the European Union (EU) and implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
"I am thrilled! I thought I wouldn't be able to ride a bike, but the mentors helped me succeed. I have already driven through Gradiška with them several times and I hope that we will drive again during the summer days,"said Gandić.
Her mother Dušanka Grandić points out that she is grateful to GOS and UNDP for the implementation of all activities that improve the quality of life of her daughter and all people with disabilities in Gradiška.
"My Vanja is very interested in everything that GOS does and goes to every meeting in the organization with a smile on her face," added Grandić.
Vanja is not the only one who rides a tandem bicycle. Other blind and partially sighted people from Gradiška also enjoyed recreational riding with this means of transport through participation in the GOS project called "Together we can do everything". As part of this project, GOS received two tandem bicycles and braille paper for braille training, which are now used by all members of this organization.
GOS explains that the tandem bicycles they received are designed so that a sighted person can control the bicycle on the first seat, while a blind person sits on the second seat. The bicycle is designed to have two sets of handlebars and pedals, which gives blind people the feeling that they too are riding a bicycle by actively participating in the ride.
"We all had the opportunity to ride tandem bikes several times a week, which we will continue in the future. We take turns in groups and no one is denied an opportunity. All the activities of GOS are extremely important to us because of the camaraderie and simply the feeling that we are not forgotten and that someone is thinking of us",said 61-year-old Predrag Ljubojević, who has been visually impaired for almost 18 years.
Vice-President of GOS Željko Štrbac says that the project "Together we can do everything" fully justified its name and enabled blind and partially sighted people in Gradiška to enjoy social activities in which they were not previously involved for the first time.
Five blind people with 100 percent vision loss and 15 visually impaired people participated in the project. Štrbac says that the participants did not believe at all that they were capable of riding a bicycle, but with the support of a mentor, they were able to do so.
"Many have never had the opportunity to feel what a bicycle looks like, or even to touch this sports prop, which is why they were very excited. Riding a tandem bicycle was a real experience for themsaid Štrbac.
He adds that this project, through more than 40 educations and workshops, strengthened the self-confidence of GOS members. In addition to riding tandem bicycles, the participants had the opportunity to learn to type on a braille typewriter and on braille tablets, as well as play chess and other board games.
Through its activities, GOS continuously helps the social inclusion of blind and partially sighted people. Štrbac points out that in this organization they are especially struggling to provide a better social life for their young members.
"We want to provide them with easier access to literacy, education, employment and all other content that will provide them with a more independent life," Štrbac said.
GOS started with the implementation of another project, which intends to improve the motor skills of its members. The project called "Get involved" in addition to riding tandem bicycles, blind and partially sighted people in Gradiška provided training in a bowling alley and on the spoken transport dart board.
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