Despite being blind from birth, Robert Ainsley-Raffel has never let his disabilities stop him achieving his ambitions. He is already well on the way to becoming a qualified plumber, and even trains his own greyhound. Now the 25-year-old from Hexham is training as an underwater diver. Robert passed his dive theory test with a flying 100% mark and is now looking forward to his first open water dives en route to a full Ocean Diver qualification.
Robert – who takes a white stick under water with him, saying that “it stops me banging my head” – is undaunted by his disability. He says: “I haven’t got a problem being blind – it’s other people that aren’t prepared to step outside the box and find a way around problems that I have the biggest trouble working with.” However, the British Sub-Aqua Club was happy to help when Robert applied to undertake a scuba diving course.
BSAC regional coach Dave Lucas accepted the challenge and says: “I did lots of Rob’s pool training with him, which was challenging and fun. The traditional methods of demonstration obviously have to be adapted for a blind diver. The solution was often a good briefing followed by a session where Rob was moved into the required positions like a life-sized action man until he realised what was required.” Robert said: “Right from the start Dave was prepared to give it a go and train me. Dave has been fantastic.
“Instead of putting up barriers, he took the attitude that we had to find a way around problems instead of just giving up and saying it can’t be done. The instructors from Cormeton, a BSAC school, and the regional coaching team taught me the theory side and I passed the exam with a 100% pass mark. The pool sessions were magic and, although I might have taken a bit longer to get things worked out, I had no trouble getting everything sorted.” Robert said: “I was born blind. Basically I didn’t have any retinas in my eyes so that was that.” Mary Tetley, chief executive of BSAC, said: “Robert is a remarkable individual who is an inspiration to us all.”