Richard Lane, 49 from Surrey, who lost his sight at the age of 23, is one of the most advanced visually impaired individuals in the world of wine. He has always had a passion for wine, and having previously attended informal night classes in wine tasting, a close friend suggested he look into taking his knowledge further and introduced him to WSET’s internationally recognised qualifications.
Richard says, “I wanted to stretch myself a bit further, and to see if my brain still worked as my last exam was for my degree back in 1989…”
WSET School London, the flagship provider of Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) qualifications, has been offering qualifications for vision-impaired (VI) students since 2013. Richard undertook the Level 2 Award in Wines and Spirits, achieving a distinction, and went on to achieve the Level 3 Award in Wines with merit.
He says, “I enjoyed both Levels 2 and 3 very much. Looking back, I found level 2 a bit frustrating as I wanted to know more, to dig deeper into the reasons behind many of the things that it asked us to learn. Level 3 was really rewarding and a huge step up in terms of the volume and depth of knowledge required.”
Richard has now taken a sabbatical from his career as writer and editor for a medical journal to journey further into the world of wine and expand his education. He has moved to southern Dordogne, south-east of Bergerac, France, with his wife Liz and guide dog Topper (www.twitter.com/soppytoppy) where he will research the Bergerac wine appellations – there are 13 of them, some very small.
He says, “Having completed Level 3 earlier this year, I feel in a better position to explore the local wine of Bergerac during my year’s sabbatical, and of other neighbouring areas such as Duras, Saint Emilion, Pomerol, and left-bank Bordeaux wines. I hope to take on the WSET Level 4 Diploma in Wines and Spirits upon my return, and like the idea of doing some wine journalism and/or education if I can get the diploma under my belt…”
He hopes to use the knowledge he learned from his WSET qualifications to learn more about the wines of Bergerac, and to write about the historic area known as the Perigord Pourpre.
“Richard and his dog Topper have been popular members of our classes. He has always been prepared with insightful questions and ready to challenge the educators and get involved in class discussions. Richard has been so enthused by the courses that he has progressed to Level 3 and we have been delighted in helping him where we can”, says WSET School London Principal Jim Gore, developer of the courses for VI students.
WSET courses for vision impaired students were originally developed in conjunction with the Royal London Society for Blind People (now RSBC). Now, VI students can participate in WSET courses through WSET School London on request. Students acquire the same skills and knowledge as their sighted counterparts, but with learning materials specially adapted for those with sight impairments, from the incorporation of role-play revision activities to the production of VI appropriate pre-study materials. Upon successful completion, the WSET is committed to connecting graduates from the course with the industry if they wish to pursue a career or deeper interest in wines and spirits.
Jim Gore adds, “Each vision-impaired student needs to have a one-to-one helper, so it is very labour-intensive. But to witness the delight when the students receive their results is extremely rewarding.”
WSET Chief Executive, Ian Harris says, “As an educational charity, one of our key objectives is to use our resources to make wine education more accessible, so as many people as possible can reap the benefits of a WSET course. We are hugely proud to be able to equip vision impaired people with skills that can help them progress professionally, but also inspire wine enthusiasts who simply want to enhance their own wine enjoyment through education.”
Richard says, “I would absolutely recommend WSET education as an opportunity for other vision impaired people. The area of wine knowledge and appreciation lends itself very well to people with reduced or no sight, with the obvious focus on other senses such as smell and taste. The only outstanding challenge is how to approach the visual part of the blind tasting in WSET examinations. My experience has been overwhelmingly positive, with course materials made available electronically and the student support team on hand to offer advice, and, of course, support.”