This is a personal reflection on one aspect of my day to day orientation and mobility. I fully recognise that peoples experiences can be both similar and much different to this and I’d love to hear from you about your experiences of travel and getting about.
Being able to travel is one of the most liberating things that anyone can have. I’m very lucky to have had the opportunity to travel all over the country, mainland Europe and the World for a number of work, leisure and sport related reasons. I’m always very reluctant to say ‘my visual impairment hasn’t stopped me’ because it can then portray an image of travel being a brave thing to do. However, this doesn’t mean that I find travel easy and trauma free; far from it as experiences have informed me differently.
My commute to work can present some very tricky situations on what some would consider as a straight forward route through the middle of Leeds city centre. I’m totally blind and normally have evans, my 8 year old guide dog with me. Part of the route is through a pedestrian area, which has quite a few shops and side streets on both sides. At the time of the morning we tend to travel, vans and trucks have access over the pedestrian area in order to carry out deliveries to the various businesses. True, this makes delivering goods easier and yes there is a good reason for it and having it at that time of day, but it really does make orientation so difficult. Some would say ‘oh your guide dog will help you’. Yes he will help me round static objects, but he’d need a brain the size of Leeds to predict the movements of moving vans and trucks. This mornings commute was extremely difficult because there were so many vehicles trying to go down the street. With the noise reflecting off the buildings, it was extremely difficult to hear where things were and therefore we had to virtually crawl up the street; crossing from side to side to avoid drivers who were clearly relying on me to do the impossible and look where I was going.
I have good orientation skills and my hearing is thankfully sound but trying to navigate a route that is shared by vehicles and pedestrians is something akin to playing Russian roulette at times. For many, stepping out of the house and simply walking to the bus stop or to the local shop can be a nerve racking and difficult experience. We cannot underestimate the importance of hassle free movement for everybody and this is why pedestrian areas must be kept clear of vehicles and objects that can cause so much trouble.