The Government is planning to make it easier for shops, cafes, restaurants and pubs to serve customers outside by placing tables, chairs and stalls on the pavement.
While we recognise the importance of social distancing to reduce the risk of coronavirus spreading, any changes to our streets must not make them less accessible for blind or partially sighted people.
And because – as our World Upside Down campaign is highlighting - social distancing is much more difficult for people with sight loss, it has never been more important to have wide walkways which are clear of obstacles.
We wrote to the Government at the end of May, raising the effect pavement dining could have on blind and partially sighted people’s access to streets. We drew parallels with other obstructions like pavement parking and asked to discuss our concerns and to share our knowledge on making streets accessible.
The changes are being brought through Parliament as the Business and Planning Bill. We’ve been working closely with Guide Dogs to brief politicians and share our main concerns with the proposed legislation.
Thanks to the profile of this work the Government asked us to contribute to the guidance that accompanies the law. We worked with Guide Dogs to suggest changes and we will update you when the Government publishes the final guidance to let you know which of the changes have been adopted.
We’ve campaigned for accessible streets for many years and we know obstructions like street and café furniture can cause injury and loss of confidence to blind and partially sighted people.
More recently, our research has shown that two-thirds of people with sight loss feel less independent than before lockdown. Many aren’t leaving their homes at all. There is a risk, that unless implemented carefully, the increase in outdoor furniture could make an already serious problem worse.
There is existing guidance by some local authorities, and the Department for Transport’s own Inclusive Mobility guidance, which addresses how street and café furniture can be organised without becoming obstructions.
For example, café areas on the pavement can be separated from the rest of the footway with a barrier that is accessible for people with sight loss, including colour contrast and a tap rail for long cane users to detect. Enough space should be left to the walkway, which should be completely clear.
Where pavements are narrow, or where more space is needed to allow social distancing, the Government could encourage local councils to widen pavements, while making sure to keep detectable kerbs which are essential. But shop stalls, and outdoor furniture for cafes, pubs and restaurants, should never be prioritised over the safety and independence of blind and partially sighted people.