Blindfold walk was an eye opener for MP

ONE of the main problems I face as a blind shopaholic, bus traveller, train user and caf� lover is getting out and about safely and independently. That might be difficult to comprehend to you sighties, but navigating around is a complete and utter nightmare.

Whether it’s because of advertisement boards and street furniture obstructing the way, poor street strategies, or problems with using public or community transport, myself and other blind and partially sighted people are being deprived of the right to independent and safe travel.

Another challenging area in which blind and partially sighted people come across quite regularly is shared services. This new idea is supposed to mean pedestrians and cars use road space together harmoniously. RNIB, Guide dogs and other organisations feel this will be dangerous for blind and partially sighted people.

Living in a seaside town, I never thought it could be possible to come across so many barriers, difficulties and issues in regards to safely navigating around, but I do.

Unfortunately if it is not the irresponsible car drivers that happily park on the pavements, it is a few people that rudely run in to you and then swear at you for being there. Without sounding sarcastic, surely a large adoring brown-eyed guide dog staring at you is enough to make you think, “blind person”?

While I come across as quite confident, I still struggle with the ever altering layout of familiar routes, such as roadworks, relocation of shops, and bus services.

My wonderful guide dog friend can’t guide me to places he does not know. Usually I will have to be shown a route by a qualified mobility instructor, which takes time. Then I am able to give my guide dog directions and relevant commands. He will however guide me safely around obstacles and usually unnecessary street clutter.

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Last month MP Brandon Lewis, agreed to walk around his constituency blindfolded to see first hand the barriers and difficulties blind and partially sighted people face on a daily basis.

The short walk included a busy market place, noisy shopping centre, road crossings, Regent Road, which is notorious for advertisement boards, street furniture and people, and through Victoria Arcade.

I chose this route because I knew it would include issues such as clutter, traffic, people, and could be quite disorientating. The walk was a brilliant success and Brandon appreciate 18 minutes of what it is like to live with no sight, a step into the unknown for him.

In the next few weeks, I am hoping to repeat this blindfold walk with two local councillors, and stress to them also that areas of the town need addressing in terms of safety for blind and partially sighted people. Through the persistence of positive, constructive and productive campaigning, blind and partially sighted people will have the ability to continue to live as independently as possible and safely and self-sufficiently navigate around.

By Siobhan Meade