Newsletter 2/2004

VIM Newsletter 2 – 2004 (PDF)

1. Editorial

by Kicki Nordström,  President of the WBU

Projects such as VIM which aim at strengthening the opportunities available for visually impaired people on the labour market are important and bring with them positive effects for all visually impaired people. It is good to be able to point to good results achieved by visually impaired people within a certain field, in this case the massage  profession.

Visually impaired people the world over have difficulty in getting work. This is an irrefutable fact. The difficulties they experience are many in nature. Among  the biggest of them is employers’ lack of  confidence in the ability of the visually impaired to perform a statisfactory job.

The World Blind Union (WBU) with its 600 organisations for people with a visual impairment around  the world works to improve the situation for these people  especially in matters concerning the possibilities for work and self-support. In  many quarters this is perhaps the most important  question of all. Working and supporting oneself is not  important just for one’s own welfare but also brings with it  positive effects both for the individual and for society at large. The visually impaired person is then seen as a resource and an asset and not as a burden.

In order for major changes to  occur on the labour market, employers need to understand that a visually  impaired person can work and that is why positive examples of skilful  professionals from various lines of work are required. Skilfulness is attained by, among other things, a good vocational training, and I hope  and believe that through VIM this will be achieved.

Good luck in the important work you are carrying out in the cause of visually impaired people.

2. Finland: VIM: A New Training Course  and a New Challenge

by the students

In August 2003 a new  training course entitled  VIM (Visually Impaired Masseurs) started in Vaasa, Finland. This pilot course run by SYI (The Swedish  Vocational Institute) has the backing of five European countries, namely England,  Italy, Finland, Portugal and Sweden. Of these five countries the latter three have managed to find students (an equal number of visually impaired and normal sighted individuals) who are  able to attend the course.

The course lasts for 60 study  weeks / (one and a half years). Despite the mix of visual ability among the students the group works very well together. The training received is both  theoretical and practical in nature and every student has his/her own individuallytailored study plan. The subjects studied are divided  into three main groups:

Supporting skills:

  •  Personal development
  • Medical knowledge
  •  Communication skills
  •  Contextual network

Core skills

  •  The massage process
  •  Supporting activities
  •  On-the-job training

Application of core skills

  • Evidence-based practice
  •  Entrepreneurship and employment

As this course is very practical in nature our massage skills are tested by our giving each other massage and we have also set up our own clinic which is open to everybody at  the school. Feel free to come in for a massage if you happen to be in Vaasa!

Carina, Gilberto, Heidi, Inka, Kirsi, Linn, Manuela, Maria, Peter,Sanna-Mari

3. The Unstoppable Rise of Ocean Querelle

by Ocean Querelle

It is interesting to see  how and why people are drawn to, and motivated by, the caring profession. What follows below is a taste of my journey. I have always had an eye condition which has challenged me, depressed me, debilitated me but never stopped me from reaching my goals in life. I have explored many careers and life styles in my short, yet  eventful life; from studying and working as an actor to studying and working as a singer. I had a successful and hedonistic time modelling when I was paid ridiculous amounts of money just for the way I looked. I lived and worked in theatreland on many productions looking after costumes and dressing thespians who were precious “loves”.

I emigrated to Toronto, Canada, in 1986 after being sponsored to work as a designer for a design studio which specialised in hand-printed textiles. Calamity soon struck and I experienced a dramatic worsening of my eyesight and I not only lost my job but also had to return to England and to nothing.

On my return to England I had no home, no resources and no idea of what to do next. I spent a year feeling sorry for myself, as you do, and then during a visit to my local job centre I heard about the remedial therapy course being run at the Royal National College for the Blind. Within a few weeks I had packed my suitcase and had left London for Hereford, where the college is situated, to start a new life and a new career. The course I followed was not too dissimilar to the wonderful course which is presently being run.

Initially I found living and working in an institutional environment distressing and difficult as I had no previous experience of attending a specialist school or facility but I adapted and though being a little resistant to the challenge of residential life I quickly realised what this course could do for me and how empowered I felt and so I embraced the opportunity and have never looked back.

It was strange and yet at the same time wonderful to see how my life went from being one where I was completely involved with being creative, indulgent and ego-driven to then being guided to do something in the caring profession. Such a radical change in direction was a true case of divine intervention! Learning to help other people was both a major turning point in my life and a valuable learning experience for me.

After completing my studies I worked as a masseur at the health spa where I had done my apprenticeship. I left after six months and with me came a good number of my clients as they enjoyed and appreciated my work. That was how I started my own private practice. Word soon got around about this fantastic therapist who had just started up in business and thus my career was born.

I had never advertised and so my client base came about purely by word of mouth and although this took some time I was able, within a year, to earn my living through massage.

After 15 years I am still excited with the work I do and have kept updating my skills and portfolio of experience by learning new massage techniques and healing systems which all come together in what I offer my clients. My clients have also become my friends and I have a great respect for them, the work I do and the positive effects that massage brings.

Five years ago after repeatedly being asked to teach massage (particularly by those of my clients who were themselves therapists and who liked my techniques) I decided to add another string to my bow and I began to offer advanced level training to professionals on a one-to-one basis in order to enable them to update their skills. I found this so rewarding and natural that I decided to take up the gauntlet and focus on teaching. I am now back at the Royal National College in the final stages of a teacher training course.

Who knows where my next adventure will take me! I know that teaching is as rewarding and nourishing to me as massage and I feel privileged to have found such a rewarding line of work.

Studying massage has been the most inspired and profound learning experience I have had thus far in life. Not only has it given me a healthy income but I have also learned so much about myself and I have developed positively both as a human being and as a professional. It has helped me care for others and develop a sense of compassion. What better work is there than to help people, nurture oneself and earn a living through the experience, FANTASTIC!

My teaching practice has empowered me and given me so much more than I had hoped for. I feel I can now offer quality training to my students and at the same time see the quality of the therapy I offer improve by so doing.

4. Sweden’s first massage clinic run by visually impaired masseurs

by Lars Lind

For several years now Knut Torstensson and Thomas Ohlsson have been running Sweden’s first AKTIVO clinic. They graduated in 1995 from the first training course for visually impaired people in massage which was paid for by the Swedish National Labour Market Board and run by Malmö University.

“We met on the course and very quickly started thinking about starting up in business together” says Knut, who lost his sight as an adult after a serious car crash. “After we had successfully completed the course we started working at the National Dental Service in Malmö as part of a project where we gave massage to the dental staff and it was then that we came to the conclusion that it was high time we began making plans to set up our own company”.

At that time the Employability Institute (AMI Syd) in Malmö was running an EU project and through this project Knut and Thomas received the help they needed in starting up their own business. It goes without saying, however, that these things take time. “We really had to look into the intricacies and practicalities of working as self-employed masseurs” relates Thomas, who is visually impaired and a former recreation leader who decided to change careers once jobs for recreation leaders became few and far between.

Everyone in Sweden who wishes to start up their own business with the help of the various action programmes which the Employment Office has to offer should attend a course where they learn the basics of how to start up in business for themselves. For one reason or another Knut and Thomas never made it onto such a course and so they had to resort to other means to gain the necessary information.

Their clinic is located in Eslöv, a smallish town in Southern Sweden. They share the premises with the Occupational Health Service and their customer base consists of various companies in the region. Knut and Thomas regularly visit these companies and give massage to the employees. This is a successful concept which has led to an improvement in the general state of health among the employees at the workplaces Knut and Thomas visit.

As of this year it has become more advantageous for companies to let their employees avail themselves of onsite massage as it is now possible to claim tax relief for the costs incurred in providing massage for staff as massage is viewed as Staff Care.

How do Knut and Thomas view their job?

“The best thing about the job  is that you are always eagerly awaited when you turn up” says Knut and Thomas agrees. “It would be good if we got a protected occupational title” Knut points out and explains how important such a protection would be. “Nowadays there are many people who call themselves masseurs but many of these may only have attended a course in massage over a few weekends here and there”.

Ten years have now passed since Knut and Thomas started on the year-long course at Malmö University. How do they view the course and what could have been done differently?

“I think that the course was good” says Knut, “but there’s nothing that can’t be improved. I would have liked to have had more medical theory and more ergonomics”. “Perhaps these could be the subjects of continuation courses” he adds and continues “Self-care is also very important and I would have liked more of that; it is good for oneself and it is also something that we can teach our clients”.

Both Knut and Thomas agree that the topic of how to start up a company should be a theme which runs throughout the whole course. Topics covered should include how to market oneself as a masseur, the type of company that fits in with one’s business idea, financial rutines etc etc. The questions are many and varied and the possibility ought to exist during the course to discuss these and similar questions with experts.

“The topics of functional testing and diagnostics ought to have been taken up in greater detail” Thomas points out before rushing off to a yoga class. Self-care can obviously take many different forms!

Knut and Thomas view the future with confidence. Both agree that they have chosen the right profession. Who wouldn’t want a job where they were eagerly awaited?

5. The Italian Massage Profession is in a State of Transition

by Carlo Monti

Until recently the possibility for visually impaired masseurs in Italy to work as independent practitioners has been an excellent option for those individuals who are willing to put in the required effort and commitment.

The law in fact guarantees employment for visually impaired masseurs if they wish to work within the national health system and so, bearing this in mind, it is not hard to see that only the most prepared and able massage practitioners would be willing to renounce the prospect of definite employment and so expose themselves to the vagaries of competition on the open labour market. Only 10% of visually impaired masseurs take up the challenge. Those who do so receive great personal and professional satisfaction and recognition as a result.

Generally speaking, the customers whom these masseurs treat suffer from problems related to the skeletal system or the muscular system. The problems they experience arise as a result of illness or trauma that these systems are subjected to.

In Italy, the concept of preventative health care is not as widely acknowledged or acted on as is the case in other European countries and it is relatively rare for Italians to avail themselves of the services of a masseur/masseuse in order to bring about a sense of well-being and to prevent the onset of physical problems. The main exceptions to this trend have been sportsmen and other professionals (i.e.musicians) whose work can involve a lot of physical stress of one sort or another. Both musicians and sportsmen, including some famous ones, have turned to visually impaired masseurs for help. Among the musicians have been some from the Florence Municipal Theatre.

As a result of their foray onto the open labour market visually impaired masseurs have obtained good professional results and made some good contacts. One limiting factor they face, however, is the legal requirement that a massage practitioner must work in conjunction with a doctor. Such joint work does not, as might be supposed, undermine the professional autonomy of the masseur. In the case of the visually impaired masseurs in Ligury this requirement has been done away with.

The present situation for visually impaired masseurs in Italy is in a state of flux; employment in the field of health care is open only to those who are designated “physiotherapists”. Massage practitioners are thus blocked from working in this field. Although there are a lot of legal objections to this employment block, it seems to be an irreversible state of affairs.

Employment on the open market now seems to be the only option for visually impaired masseurs and not just the privilege of those few who dare to venture outside the hitherto safe employment system. This presents these masseurs with a challenge, namely seeking employment on the open labour market, which, as yet, does not have legal safeguards in place for them.

A comprehensive review of the curriculum for massage courses for visually impaired masseurs needs to be undertaken. By so doing, massage practitioners in Italy, who as yet are not sufficiently prepared to compete professionally with others, can begin to do so. The Ministry for Public Education has promised, in vain, to carry out the necessary reform. Schools find that they are limited by too much emphasis being placed on matters which have no direct bearing on the skills required by would-be massage practitioners.

The pilot course currently underway in Vaasa will hopefully provide a new impetus for the drive in Italy to revitalise the training of visually impaired masseurs and the profession into which they enter.

6. Introduction of the ITEC Qualification in Sport’s Massage

by Stan Cantrill

The RNC has recently added the ITEC Qualification in Sport’s Massage to the list of courses it offers students.

In order to be eligible to attend the course the students either had to be qualified Remedial Therapists or at least have passed the core units of remedial massage, professional conduct, anatomy and physiology.

The first intake of students were very keen and wanted to put their new-found skills into practice and so attended all sorts of athletic events where they utilised their knowledge in the management and treatment of injuries and gave both pre- and post-event massage.

After working at the Commonwealth Games in 2002 the students were invited to give advice on preand post-event massage to the GB Junior Rifle and Pistol Squad at one of their training weekends at the national shooting centre in Bisley.

When carrying out their shooting practice, it is common for the members of the squad to apply an isometric contraction, hold their breath and then squeeze the trigger. This leads to the muscle groups in the upper body becoming severely traumatised. The facilitated and self stretches which we taught members of the squad were aimed at avoiding this problem and this, coupled with the massage they received from us, produced some superb results. One unexpected outcome of our involvement was that the squad members have taken to giving massage to each other, thus increasing the sense of team bonding. Introducing the benefits of massage to so young a group of people is clearly of great importance for any future involvement in sport that they might wish to pursue.

Another highlight of the students’ work experience year was their being invited by the British Heart Foundation to massage cyclists at the end of the annual London Southend Charity Cycle Race. It was pleasing to note that the RNC students were far more competent in Sports Massage than their counterparts. In fact, the other masseurs kept on asking “What are you doing?” and “How were you able to learn these techniques?” One of the students kindly offered to poke the inquisitive individual in the eye and so enable him or her to attend the RNC and find out the answer to the question personally!

The RNC has a new intake of students for this academic year and several of them have expressed an interest in Sports Massage. A new venture currently underway in conjunction with a local football team is a sports’ injury clinic run by the students. The clinic will also be open to all students at the college who are involved in one way or another with sport.

7. Portugal Positive about the Future for Pan-European Massage Training

by Assis Milton Rodrigues

As a member of the project: “Supporting the creation of a uniform model for a European masseur training for visually impaired people”, we have been able to send two participants to join the pilot training course which is currently underway in Finland. We have been a part of the project since its start, giving our input as and when required and it is pleasing to see the positive effects that this involvement has had both on the pilot project and on the progress our representatives are making.

We are gratified to see that the course is alive and kicking and meeting the aims and goals set for it. The pilot project is on schedule and is running like clockwork. Our participants, Gil and Manuela, returned to Portugal during a break in the course and shared with us what had been happening. Adapting to an entirely new environment involved some surprises and some sacrifices not least as regards the food, the weather, the language and the financial restraints that come with being a student. Nevertheless we are quite confident that they will overcome any obstacles they may encounter and that they will safely return to Portugal with a wealth of experiences and know-how concerning the massage profession.

APEDV’s participation in the course will undoubtedly have a positive and lasting influence on the way we run our massage courses. We are aware of the continual need to improve our training methods and the contents of our courses so as to produce the best possible blind masseurs. Our involvement in the whole project, of which the pilot training course is but a part, goes a long way to providing us with an excellent opportunity towards meeting this need. Any improvements we implement will also take into consideration the views and needs of those past students of ours who are presently working as masseurs. We will involve them in the regular seminars or workshops (etc) which we hope to hold.

The project “Supporting the creation of a uniform model for a European masseur training for visually impaired people” was conceived and structured in such a way that any institution in Europe, or for that matter, in any part of the world, could use this model as a basic reference guide when planning similar courses. This ensures a high quality end product.  As the massage profession is one in which a substantial number of blind people can work independently it is bound to contribute to bringing about the social and economical integration of those blind people who might benefit from such a form of training.

In Portugal APEDV has been continuously producing qualified masseurs at a rate of about six per year since 1986. Most of our graduates have obtained gainful employment, mainly in the private sector. The reason that they have found employment in the private sector and not in the public sector is due to the fact that our course is not officially recognized as qualifying an individual to work in the public sector. We are, however, hoping that the model which all of the organisations involved in the VIM project are now working upon will soon be officially recognized for use in the whole of the EU area. With this aim in mind contacts have been made at an official level with the relevant validating bodies.

We feel privileged to be a part of the pilot project and we count it both as our duty and our joy to work hard towards helping visually impaired people to find their proper place in society as a whole. We would also like to take this opportunity to express our thanks to our fellow workers in the project and to Elisabet Borgar and Lars Lind for the guidance they give us. They have kept the project on track from the very beginning.


Ms Elisabet Borgar, MSc (Health Sciences), Lecturer
Tel +358 6 324 2321
Mobile +358 50 336 8281
Fax +358 6 3242310

Partners in the project:

The Swedish Vocational Institute, Finland (SYI)

The Institute for Research, Training and Rehabilitation (I.Ri.Fo.R.)

APEDV, Associação Promotora De Emprego De Decifientes Visuais

Royal National College for the Blind (RNC)

Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB)

AKTIVO 2000 – International Association of Visually Impaired Masseurs and Physiotherapists

The Swedish Association of the Visually Impaired (SRF)

Arbetsförmedlingen Rehabilitering

(Employment offices with special resources for people with disabilities)

The Arla Institute

The Federation for The Swedish-Speaking Visually Impaired in Finland (FSS)

Finnish Association of Visually Impaired Masseurs and Physiotherapists (FAN)

Finnish Federation of the Visually Impaired (NKL)