The last two weeks have been extremely busy and it has felt, at times, that my feet haven’t been touching the ground long enough for me to dwell and reflect. Therefore, the topic for this entry is quite apt; getting out and about ant the barriers that are put in the way to make it an adventure.
Do you ever feel that walking down any street in your town, village or city is a challenge? Additionally, do you reflect that getting out and about altogether can be a hazardous occurrence that needs caution, planning and precise application? For many visually impaired people, the journey of coming out of the front door to say go to the local shop or to an event can be a tough adventure in itself. There are many reasons why and some will be highlighted here.
Firstly, the physical layout of many pedestrian areas leaves a lot to be desired. Street furniture for one outside of shops can and quite often do block pavements; forcing pedestrians into the road. This has happened to me on a number of occasions; putting both myself and my guide dog in danger. There is a procedure to follow when moving round obstacles in the pavement when working a guide dog, but when many shops put up advertising boards, then the time spent in the road increases and become even more dangerous. With limited vision, advertising boards and displays can become more of a hazard because they can either disappear from someone’s sightline or contrast badly with the surroundings and nasty injuries can be sustained.
Guide Dogs for the blind, RNIB and many local groups across the country have been campaigning on the removal of street furniture for many years. This has met with mixed success in different regions, which means the campaigning must continue to eliminate unnecessary barriers on pavements. These do not just affect those of us with sight loss, but they make life more difficult for those in wheelchairs or parents with children in buggies.
In addition to pavement furniture, there are the problems of shared surfaces. Many town and city centres have turned their main shopping areas into shared traffic and pedestrian zones. The argument for this is that they are carefully managed and that there are defined areas for both to move safely. IN practice, this is quite often not the case as the volume of pedestrians can push sus out into the traffic zone and therefore increase danger and vulnerability. If you throw in some pavement furniture such as tables and chairs outside cafes and also A-boards outside other shops then the room is limited and more danger is promoted.
The same can be said of shared pedestrian and cycle ways where one part of the pavement is given over to cyclists whilst the other to pedestrians. A hazard within itself; especially if there is no contrasting and tactile marking the boundary between both areas. I remember once challenging a counsellor in my home area about this and asking him if he had considered the danger to guide dog of such a scheme would bring. He scoffed and said that the guide dog would tell ‘them’ the difference between the cycle and pedestrian carriage way. A ridiculous statement that needs no more expansion.
A third area of danger, which has received quite a lot of publicity recently is parked cars on pavements and also wheelie bins and bin bags being left out long than they need to have been. This in itself causes as much difficulty as advertising boards and street furniture do. They have, however, been moves in various parts of the country to address this issue. In parts of Leeds West Yorkshire for example, the local authority along with the police have been clamping down in certain areas of the city on people who are responsible for causing such pavement obstructions. Additionally, organisations are continually campaigning on this issue and must continue to do so to make sure the message hits home to the right authorities.
Don’t be too alarmed; there are certain areas that have done very well to ensure that that streets are easier to access and get through. It’s just very important that the message is continually sent out that unnecessary barriers are not acceptable in making access to our towns and cities more difficult and restrictive.