Blindfold walk in Barnstaple shows why regeneration must ensure streets are accessible

Post date: 
Thursday, 5 August 2021
Inclusive journeys
Steve Hyde, RNIB Regional Campaigns Officer, leads a blindfold walk in Barnstaple with Selaine Saxby MP, local councillors and residents.

We held a successful blindfold walk in Barnstaple, joined by the local MP, local councillors and residents, highlighting the obstacles to accessible streets faced by blind and partially sighted pedestrians.

Local resident Simon Harvey invited Steve Hyde, RNIB’s Regional Campaigns Officer for the South West of England, to hold a blindfold walk in Barnstaple in North Devon. With the town centre’s regeneration on the horizon, it demonstrated the importance of accessible streets for all.

We were really pleased Selaine Saxby, local MP and RNIB champion, could attend along with local councillors and officials. Wearing spectacles with filters to simulate sight loss caused by different eye conditions, they were able to experience some of the difficulties blind and partially sighted people face when out and about. They encountered many obstructions, such as café and restaurant furniture and cars parked on pavements, as well as the challenge of “shared use” areas, where vehicles drive over the space used by pedestrians.

Steve emphasised the importance of inclusive street design and accessible pedestrian crossings, and how these need to be prioritised alongside obstacle-free pavements and walkways. Some poor examples found during the walk included incorrect tactile paving used on a slope, broken tactile paving partially replaced with tarmac, and a puffin crossing ending in a highly cluttered area.

Steve gave a presentation on various forms of eye conditions and the different types of canes people use, with a quick demonstration on how to walk with a cane, to set the scene before the walk. With an improved understanding of sight loss and what it’s like to navigate local streets, we hope local decision makers will appreciate the need to put accessible streets at the heart of Barnstaple’s regeneration.

Selaine Saxby MP said:

“The challenges faced by people who are visually impaired in our society are great and made far more difficult by for example, cyclists who should not be on pavements, and obstacles such as bollards, planters, and uneven surfaces.”

As Chair of the APPG [All Party Parliamentary Group] for Cycling and Walking, I will take back my insight from this blindfold walk to ensure that when we discuss and look to have dedicated cycling and walking areas, that these are suitable for people who are visually impaired.

Rob Ward, Town Clerk of Barnstaple Town Council, added:

“It has made me realise in some detail how certain small decisions can make such a difference.”

Read more about our campaigning for Inclusive Journeys.