Diagnosed with a genetic condition that causes the loss of vision, Mike Walsh decided to take the opportunity of a lifetime to travel the world and raise awareness about blindness through his project Flight4Sight.
Walsh’s condition, Usher syndrome, causes both hearing and vision impairment. Walsh said he has had hearing aids his entire life but just recently has been losing more of his vision, now having to use a cane and give up driving.
Flight4Sight is Walsh’s way of raising awareness about vision disabilities. He connects to people all over using social media to get input from the community about what his next adventure should be. His original plan to travel for 40 days and 40 nights has now been extended, and he plans on being abroad until April.
“I’ve always wanted to do something unique for a good cause,” he said. “That was really it, having the opportunity to fly, and then I was like ‘OK, what can I do that is interesting to go around the world to raise awareness.’”
Walsh said the opportunity came to him through a major airline that made it financially feasible for him to do this project.
Since he initiated the project, Walsh has gained more than 1,000 likes on his Facebook page and readers on his blog. He incorporates the community into his project by asking for requests on how he should plan out his travels. Some of the more interesting requests he has gotten include zip trekking and paragliding, he said.
“I was like, what should I do? The most likes wins. I woke up and was like, cliff diving,” Walsh said.
Social media has been a way for Walsh to make connections with people during his travels, some of whom have helped him plan out his traveling and make accommodations.
Walsh said he has met many interesting people along the way, including an opportunity he had to interview a dancer with the same condition. He said he wants to send a message to people in his situation that they can gain a lot from staying positive and going out to see the world and that it is possible even with visual impairment.
“Every day is a new country, new continent, new accent. I take pictures, try to take it all in, try to sleep. Maybe every once in a while I shave,” Walsh said.
Different countries have a significant difference in the kinds of accommodations they have for visually-disabled people, Walsh said. In other countries, ramps and accessibility accommodations are often more of a suggestion, while they are a serious requirement in the United States, he said.
Walsh said one part of Thailand lacked sidewalks, and he was “literally just waiting to get hit by a car.”
Usher syndrome is genetic, and both Walsh and his brother have the condition. He said his brother works as a comedian and often jokes about his condition.
“Me and my brother have as much fun with it as we can, we laugh about it,” Walsh said. “There’s no complaining here, we have a great life.”
Walsh already has more travel plans in the works. He will be in Madrid on Friday to go out dancing while blindfolded and to visit the Madrid Blind Museum. After that, he plans to travel to Italy on Sunday.