Many of you won’t need an introduction to Youth Support Officer Ryan Honschooten. He’s been employed with VisAbility for twenty-five years in our Children and Youth Services. But, aside from work, do you know about his extensive involvement in initiating and setting up blind sports? Or his love of music and the advocacy work he does? Ryan is a member of many disability and accessibility boards. He’s also the proud recipient of many awards.
We wanted to share a snapshot of Ryan’s hectic schedule from the beginning of the year until now. Here it is in his own words:
I started with a holiday in Karratha with a cousin. 2021 was a busy year for me. Unfortunately, on my return from holiday, I learned that the ceiling of my bedroom had collapsed! The upshot was moving out into my spare junk room. Fortunately, I had a four poster bed that had secured the ceiling and prevented a complete disaster.
January saw the start of WA Blind Tennis held every Tuesday night. WA Blind Soccer also commenced on a Sunday morning and then Blind Cricket directly afterwards. There’s a lot to juggle on the same day.
I am the Secretary of Blind Sports WA and obviously through this I’m involved with Blind Sports Australia. In January, we have the Blind Sports AGM.
After my break, I start back at my radio show presenting ‘Rockaria’ with community radio station Heritage FM (link opens in new window). It takes up my Saturday afternoons for four hours. During the week I organise interviews, sourcing music and keeping in touch with local bands.
I start the year by giving back – I really do – because I am a plasma donor.
I like to donate plasma every month – the process can take 90 minutes. I’d like to do this fortnightly but I never have enough time.
Before the month is out, I go kayaking with my paddle group. It is a great day in the sunshine celebrating a member’s birthday.
I learn that I’m in with a chance of being selected to play for Australia in the International Cricket Inclusion Series (link opens in new window). Training ramps up ahead of the event in June. I train as often as three times a week with the WA Blind Cricket team – The Venetians at the WACCA or at Murdoch University.
The weather is still gorgeous, so at the weekends, aside from cricket training and my radio show, I enjoy a spot of sailing. In the past, I have taken part in a three-month trip from Auckland to Cape Town in South Africa, sailing three-quarters of the way round the world in a tall ship.
I am the current Chairperson of Goalball Australia, a sport for people with low or no vision. We meet fortnightly on a Thursday evening. Of course, I am not just involved on a national level but also on a state level with Goalball WA, which meets monthly.
Blind Tennis is expanding to cover Mandurah. Guess who’s driven this expansion? Myself! I believe that sport has the power to connect, uplift and improve overall well-being, especially among the vision impaired community.
WA Blind AFL is gearing up to start it season. I am spending time promoting it and finding new players. Unfortunately, the sessions are on a Saturday when I’m hosting Rockaria, so I won’t be able to join in.
On a Saturday morning Goalball starts again for the season at VisAbility. February is also the month we establish a Stargardt’s support group in collaboration with our Social Work team and Marija Clark, and the Lions Eye Institute (link opens in new window).
I sit on a number of committees promoting inclusion and accessibility. The first of the meetings of the year with Volunteer WA Disability Advisory Group (link opens in new window) takes place this month along with Social Sports Inclusion Network (SSIN) – an initiative to promote sport to people with disabilities. It’s been going for more than eleven years and started by what was then Department of Sport and Recreation (DSR). I round off February by attending the Perth Web Accessibility Camp (link opens in new window).
Work has slowly commenced on removing and repairing the ceiling in my bedroom. I am still living across three rooms in my house. It’s frustrating because I can’t easily find anything.
I am the eldest of five siblings. I live with my sister and my nephew and niece. Because my niece tested positive for COVID, I don’t want to risk infection, so I leave my house and move into a friend’s house. I end up staying with him for a month!
Mid-March, myself and the Development Officer from Blind Sports WA, Raquelle make a presentation about different blind sports to people living with vision impairment in Mandurah.
The regular Saturday morning Goalball coaching rolls on (no pun intended) along with the radio show. Cricket, tennis and soccer training continues. Sometimes I wonder where and how I fit in any paid employment!
48 hours after presenting in Mandurah, I’m at the Railway Hotel in Fremantle as a compere at a Thin Lizzy, White Snakes and ACDC tribute gig. You can tell the era of music I love! Soccer, goalball, tennis, plus cricket training continues weekly as well as my other committee meetings.
I enjoy the occasional kayak trip with my friends on a Sunday. It’s a great way of winding down and relaxing.
At the end of March, I fly to Victoria for a weekend cricket series between NSW and Victoria for Albury Wodonga. This is an important match being reviewed by Australian coaches. They are making selections ahead of the International Blind Cricket Series. I have everything crossed because this is a great opportunity. I’d love to take part.
After coming back from the Victorian Cricket Series, we enter April. This month starts with a seven day trip to Brisbane to volunteer at the Queensland Braille Music Camp. It’s a subject close to my heart because I know how music can impact people with low or no vision loss in a positive way. It improves self-advocacy and independence. Youngsters can learn how to read and write Braille music and about accessible music computer software programs.
As soon as I step off the plane, I grab a taxi to His Majesty’s Theatre for a performance of Iolanta. In a world premiere, West Australian Opera has worked with the blind and vision impaired community to tell Iolanta’s story. VisAbility client Grace King plays Iolanta.
Music, theatre, then sport. Blind Sports WA works closely with WA’s Para Olympic representatives. Goalball is heavily involved in a ‘Come and Try Day.’ No sooner has the event finished than I’m off on a flight to Sydney for the National Youth Goalball Camp in my role as the Camp Co-ordinator taking two young aspiring goalball players from WA with me.
I am only away for five days. On my return, it’s my first ever presentation to occupational therapist undergraduates at Edith Cowan University. I talk about my lived experience with disability. The next day, I attend a Blind Cricket Australia Meeting.
I attend the Shine On Awards organised by the Rotary Club of Southern Districts. A few Visability employees and clients are nominated. It’s lovely to soak up the atmosphere as they receive their awards including Activity Officer Tiziana who works in the Community Activity Centre.
The regular Blind Sports WA and Goalball Australia meetings continue. Cricket training ramps up. If cricket training takes place during work hours, then I have to make up my hours in the evening. The weather is growing cooler. I’m still not back in my bedroom. the repairs to the ceiling continue.
Finally, the busy month finishes with me as a compere at a VisAbility/Lions Eye institute event – a Q and A session about Retinitis Pigmentosa with Professor Fred Chen.
The first week of May consists of back-to-back meetings with Cricket Australia, Goalball Australia, Blind Sports WA and a Social Sports Inclusion Network Meeting.
Another training camp – this time in Queensland for the Blind Cricket Australia Camp. It’s a two-day event and the final opportunity to get some serious training done for the Cricket Inclusion series that starts next month.
As the month ends, I attend the Round Table on Information Access for People with Print Disabilities held at VisAbility. This annual event is an opportunity for like-minded experts – technology developers, and accessible format producers to discuss the latest developments in the material available for people with a print disability.
Good news – the ceiling has been restored in my bedroom, but now we need to find a painter.
At work, I start thinking about an event to mark International White Cane Day.
A memorable month. I take an audio recorder around with me and document my life as a person with no vision for a podcast to be broadcast on 4ZZZ Radio Station called “How I See It”. I record events, musings, conversations – my take on the world around me.
My dream has happened, because I learn that I will be competing in the Cricket inclusion series representing Australia in Blind Cricket. There’s a Blind Sports WA meeting before flying to Brisbane for this great cricketing opportunity. I play in five out of seven games against New Zealand which includes two one-day internationals.
I receive a baggy green and during the presentation, some of my blind-cricketing friends say some really heartwarming things about me. It’s hard to put into words how much this means to me.
The series goes on for a fortnight. I manage to squeeze in a Goalball Australia meeting while in Brisbane. I then catch up with a friend I met years ago through the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) National Advisory Committee. Jim lives in a remote area called Glen Morgan. His wife is a headteacher and invites me to talk at the school.
I chat to the pupils about my lived experience of blindness, attach Braille stickers to their folders with their names and introduce them to a game called ‘You Know’ which features Braille cards. A helicopter ride to a cattle station follows – that’s an experience. It’s a lovely week-long holiday before I return to Perth.
Back in my home state, it’s straight back to Goalball and my radio presenting. More meetings – a National Braille Camp (link opens in new window) meeting and one for Blind Sports WA, all online and back-to-back in one evening! The next evening I attend an event at the City of Cockburn to personally receive a grant for Blind Sports WA. I learn that a painter will be painting my roof in July. I let out a sigh of relief.
The first day of the month is the best day of the year because it’s my birthday! But no time to stop. I am a compere for the inaugural Blind Sports WA Awards and the official launch of the Blind Sports WA website. Awards go to people who have made exceptional achievements in blind sports across the state. It’s a lovely opportunity to make many new sporting connections and, in addition, to reflect on the many sports now open to people with low or no vision.
Because I have been so busy, I celebrate my birthday on Saturday, a day late. I love a good barbeque, so I get three close friends and family together. Planning starts for next year’s Queensland Braille Music Camp. It takes place in April 2023, but we need to map out logistics early, like volunteers, food, etc.
I arrange and compere a Saturday presentation for people with low or no vision. It’s a joint initiative between Lions Eye Institute and VisAbility about mobile phone apps.
I move back into my bedroom. It’s a joyous day. A few friends gather to help me lift and shift my furniture and items.
As Goalball Australia President, I attend the Queensland State Goalball Championships that goes by the name ‘Hell’s Bells”. It’s an apt name because the Australian female team is called the Aussie Belles. I stand in as a coach when someone falls sick. Returning to WA, I attend a last-minute meeting for national Goalball because an Australian team is entering the 2022 IBSA Goalball Asia Pacific Championships in Bahrain (link opens in new window).
One of the top soccer teams in England, Aston Villa (link opens in new window), has devised a program for vision impaired players, so I – along with many others – attend the initial training session in Perth.
Logistical planning starts for VisAbility’s International White Cane Day. Transperth invites us to be among the first people to explore the new train station at the airport. It’s a fantastic opportunity.
Regular meetings start for the National Braille Music Camp in Mittagong, New South Wales. Somehow, I am now on the committee.
Towards the end of July, I experience Blind Hockey for the first time, thanks to Hockey West’s trial of a new program.
July ends with a trip north to Karratha with the Blind Citizens WA Group as part of the BEACON project (link opens in new window). The acronym stands for Blindness Empowerment Access Communities Outreach Committee. The aim is to connect more people with vision impairment in rural regions. We hold a meet and greet barbeque.
Somehow, I am coerced into joining the 107.3 HFM Heritage FM Programming Committee. It’s the local radio station to Gosnells and where I broadcast my rock show every week.
I start the long process of allocating Perth Royal Show tickets to clients, carers and family members. They are given to us to distribute by Lottery West and the Royal Agricultural Society. By the end of September, we have handed out over 280 tickets to the Animal Nursery Experience and 140 general admission tickets.
Blind Tennis and Goalball continue. I submit an application for the Executive Leadership course run through Blind Citizens Australia.
I manage a getaway, a four-day break by the beach with friends to enjoy kayaking and paddling. It’s a lovely way to unwind.
Then I’m away again, this time to Adelaide for another music camp organised by the South Australian School for Vision Impaired Children.
I arrive home from the blind sports camp and fly to Albany for another BEACON project event with Blind Citizens WA. We have a great turnout, but I can’t get a flight back, so it’s a five-hour bus journey for me home.
The following Saturday, we mark International White Cane Day early. VisAbility clients are invited on a tactile tour of Perth Airport Central Station ahead of its official ministerial opening. We go on the new travellators and hear about the record-breaking Airport Central Station escalator. It’s the longest in the Southern Hemisphere, measuring 35m long and 15m high. It’s very informative because our tour guides give fascinating insights into the project.
On the 22nd of September, I fly to Sydney, then head on to Mittagong for the National Braille Music camp. After a week at Music Camp, I board the overnight train, so I can travel to the Australian Goalball National Championships.
The month finishes with the news that I’ve been accepted onto the Blind Citizens Executive Leadership Project.
In early October, I discovered I’m in the running for the Blind Australian of the Year competition (link opens in new window). Organisers want me to send photos and videos to promote the awards.
Later, I learn I didn’t win. However, I feel honoured to be a finalist and humbled to be included among other vision impaired people doing momentous things.
I struggle through early October because I have this nagging feeling I may have COVID-19, but it’s just a bad dose of the flu and no tests come back positive. I skip some tennis sessions because I feel unwell, but continue with Goalball Australia meetings, Volunteer WA and the Disability Sports Inclusion Network.
Cricket training gathers momentum ahead of a National Blind Cricket Camp planned for the beginning of November.
At work, I finalise our Annual Family Picnic. There’s a dinosaur-theme puppet show, music from Grand Delusions, a barbeque, face painting, a bouncy castle and blind sports offerings.
There are plans to travel to Japan in February 2023 as part of a Goalball training initiative. I attend an online meeting to discuss it further.
Blind Citizen’s WA Beacon project has proved so successful the Bunbury event in November will be bigger than any others. It will incorporate blind sports and assistive technology. I am busy planning and organising it.
I head to Mandurah to undertake a presentation about blind sports.
At the end of October, I play my first blind tennis tournament. However, only two tennis players are totally blind (B1 players). This the first B1 match ever held in Australia. It means I win it – more by luck than expertise!
At the beginning of November, I participate in a three-day training camp in Brisbane. It is make or break time because I am being judged on whether my cricket performance will earn me a place in the Blind Cricket World Cup Championships in India.
I head back to Perth and straight into more organising for the VisAbility Family Picnic on November the 19th.
I am feeling optimistic, so in preparation for a possible trip to India, I arrange appointments for my necessary vaccinations and full medical check-up.
Great news! I am finally selected to go to India with the Blind Australian Cricket team in December, so cricket training begins in earnest.
The WA Blind Cricket Group – The Venetians play John Forrest Secondary School every Wednesday over three weeks – perfect t preparation for December.
I find time to go to the Bridgetown Blues Festival, a much-needed break. Four days later, the VisAbility Annual Family Picnic takes place. Despite a twenty-minute downpour, the event is a success, More than 140 people attend.
Before November draws to a close, I’m off to Bunbury for the BEACON project in Bunbury. I leave at 8 am, back at 6 pm.
On Sunday, I attend the Goalball Australia AGM online. I successfully seek re-election as Chair. The next day the Blind Sports WA AGM takes place. My last duty for November is when I sit on a panel discussion at Optus Stadium about inclusive cricket.
I can’t believe it’s December already. On Friday, I attend another cricket luncheon. Channel 7 News interview me about playing blind cricket for Australia in India and the report broadcasts that evening.
The day has arrived. I am flying to India for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play blind cricket for my country. After all the intensive training, the T20 Blind Cricket Inclusion Series is actually happening.
I am so grateful for all the opportunities that come my way – to play cricket in India is no exception.
My motto has and always will be: “Life is short, so fit in as much as you can. Give to others, whether that be through empathy, kindness, or encouragement.”
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