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Abbie is aiming high on the climbing wall

A competition climber from Sunderland has her sights set on the top – with the help of a hi-tech device which helps her overcome a vision problem.

By Tom Patterson
Monday, 20th June 2022, 10:36 am

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A high flying Abbie.
A high flying Abbie.

Abbie Robinson, from Fulwell, is already a three-time paraclimbing world champion despite a degenerative eye condition which means she has to rely only on her peripheral vision and cannot focus on fine detail.

Abbie, 23, will be competing in two International Federation of Sport Climbing Paraclimbing World Cup competitions over the next month – in Innsbruck, Austria, on June 21 and 22, and Villars, Switzerland, on July 8 and 9 – competing against athletes from over 30 different nations.

Abbie, who started climbing at Sunderland Wall, was diagnosed with Stargardt Macular Dystrophy at the age of 17 but has never let it impair her passion for climbing.

Abbie swings into action.

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After joining the GB climbing team, she has won a string of international competitions – World Cup events four successive World Championships.

Abbie attributes much of her success to a technological advancement – particularly a handheld digital reader that reads text aloud from any printed surface or digital screen in real time from OrCam Technologies’

When she is competing, a sight guide talks to her through a headset, guiding her up the route by describing the direction, size and shape of each hold.

Her Orcam reader allows her to travel independently around airports and train stations, choose products in supermarkets, meals in restaurants, read training programmes and create bespoke schedules

Reaching for the heights.

Abbie said: “When I am competing my sight guide is basically acting as my eyes.

"For travelling to and from competitions, reading, shopping, reading menus in restaurants and generally getting through the day, I use the reader.”

Abbie now works as head coach at a climbing centre in Swindon and, as well as defending her world title next year, is keen to see climbing become part of the Paralympics.

She said: “Climbing was included in the last Olympic Games for the first time and paraclimbing are working very hard to get it included in the paralympics.

Abbie in competition

"That would be brilliant. We have already changed our disability gradings to match those at the Paralympics, built up the number of people taking part and the number of countries involved.”

“I’m thrilled to be competing in my fourth international competition season and so proud to be representing the GB paraclimbing team."

She added: “I’m extremely grateful for the support I’ve received from OrCam Technologies to allow me to overcome the challenges associated with my visual impairment. I passionate about how this type of technology can help others overcome their disabilities.

"It has also made me more determined than ever to continue my dream of raising global awareness of paraclimbing, taking me one step closer to fulfilling my dream of competing at the Paralympics.”

A delicate balancing act.

Irie Meltzer, UK regional director at OrCam Technologies said: “Abbie’s story is incredibly inspiring and the determination she shows to reach new levels of success is fantastic.

"It’s been a real privilege working with her and supporting her journey through the 2022 World Cup season. We would like to wish her the best of luck for the two competitions.”

Abbie with her OrCam reader.