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Multi-coloured road crossings pose a threat to people with sight loss, warn charities

Two national sight loss charities have raised concerns about the introduction of multi-coloured road crossings.

RNIB Scotland and Guide dogs Scotland say the rainbow-hued crossings, increasingly being introduced across the UK in a move to show support for diversity, might inadvertently put blind and partially sighted people at risk.

In Scotland, four of the new crossing designs have already appeared in Dumbarton.

Niall Foley, External Affairs Manager for Guide Dogs Scotland, said: “Many people with a visual impairment do have some sight and we're concerned that the variation in art designs and striking colours being used will have an impact on the confidence of people with sight loss in using this type of crossing, resulting in the loss of independence."

RNIB Scotland Director, James Adams, said: “Traditional black and white pedestrian crossings offer high contrast, which is essential for people with low vision to detect and cross roads safely. Designs and colours which are not consistent with traditional designs could cause confusion to people with sight loss, and to guide dogs which are trained to stop at crossings.

"It will make guide dog training very difficult, and the appearance of colourful crossings overnight is likely to have immediate impacts on a guide dog’s willingness to cross the road," he said.

"People subject to visual hypersensitivity may experience sensory overload when encountering "visual noise" such as bright colours, patterns and stripes, particularly when these are unexpected. They may also confuse those with hallucinatory conditions such as Charles Bonnet syndrome, or other neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s and dementia."

The charities say the move is the latest example of a drive to redesign streets and thoroughfares during the coronavirus lockdown without adequate consultation with disability groups. New cycle routes that cut between pavements and bus stops, and increasingly, charging points for electronic vehicles, have added to the hazards that pedestrians with sight loss now face.

"We're concerned about the practical potential impact these colourful crossings may have," said James Adams. "Many blind and partially people are finding simply going outdoors a more fraught experience because of the recent changes to our streetscapes."

Niall Foley said: "Art can be used to enhance public areas and make spaces inviting to communities, but we feel its introduction needs to be done in a way that will not be at the detriment to disabled people, including people living with sight loss.”