Catherine McKinnell MP is taking the issue of shared space to central government after taking part in a blindfold challenge at Newcastle Central station and surrounding streets. Shared space schemes often remove the kerbs and controlled crossings that enable blind and partially sighted people to read and interpret the street around them. Loss of these essential street features puts safe navigation at risk.
During the blind fold challenge Ms McKinnell walked along Gosforth High Street wearing glasses that simulate common sight loss conditions. The MP experienced some of the barriers that blind and partially sighted people face navigating the city centre including street furniture, advertising boards and inaccessible crossings.
RNIB launched a street charter with Newcastle City Council in December to create a more accessible street environment for disabled people. However, shared space schemes still pose a risk in the city.
Ms McKinnell was joined on the walk by RNIB Regional Campaigns Officer Francesca Di Giorgio, local constituents and RNIB Volunteer Campaign Coordinators Hazel Hyland and Angus Huntley, Guide Dogs Engagement Officer Linda Oliver.
Catherine McKinnell MP said: “I’m grateful to RNIB for arranging the ‘blindfold’ walk. Walking around streets in an area I know very well, while wearing the simulation spectacles, really put the issues blind and partially sighted people face into perspective.
“After attempting to use the crossing on Salters Road, Gosforth I can only imagine the issues shared spaces must present to people with sight loss. I will be writing to the Transport Minister Chris Grayling to ask why his department believes their current guidance given to local authorities on shared space is fit for purpose despite the Women and Equalities Committee Enquiry on the built environment finding ‘striking’. I would like all shared space schemes to be paused across Newcastle. I look forward to continuing to work with RNIB and its volunteer campaigners to pledge my support for the progression of the Newcastle Street Charter, ensuring Newcastle’s streets are accessible to everyone.”
Hazel Hyland, RNIB Volunteer Campaigner Co-ordinator, said: “I’m very pleased MP McKinnell joined us on the blindfold walk for RNIB and other local disability groups.
“As someone with sight loss, walking around the area has become increasingly challenging because of street clutter. Each time I walk into the area I don’t know where or whether an advertising board will obstruct my route. MP McKinnell really listened to our concerns and we’re looking forward to continuing to work with her after the launch of the Newcastle Street Charter.”