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Temporary changes to our streets must be accessible

As coronavirus lockdown measures are slowly eased, Governments across the UK are planning to make dramatic changes to our streets.

These new measures, some temporary, some permanent, are designed to enable safe social distancing and encourage a shift towards more sustainable active transport.

Rapid changes

In Welsh cities, new street layouts are starting to be introduced, using cones and barriers to widen footways along lengths of road to provide more space, allowing people to socially distance. But as many of us already know, cones, tape and other temporary measures are not suitable for people with sight loss. Guide dogs do not perceive these as solid obstacles and will attempt to navigate between them. These are also difficult to detect using canes. 

New temporary signs can cause injury to blind and partially sighted people trying to get around, and visual indicators such as painted lines on the road are often difficult or impossible to see. And creating ‘shared spaces’ for both cyclists and pedestrians presents a hazard for people with sight loss, who are often not aware that a cyclist is approaching.  

Consider the impact

That’s why we are campaigning with Guide Dogs Cymru and a coalition of charities to ensure that any new temporary transport measures in Wales consider the long-term impact on the blind and partially sighted community. We are calling for Welsh Government to back a Coronavirus Courtesy Code that aims to promote safe social distancing for all pedestrians, road and public transport users. Welsh Government must also provide guidance for local authorities to ensure that people with sight loss and other disabled people are not unfairly disadvantaged by changes to the built environment, or any other measures taken in response to coronavirus.

We fully support a shift towards more sustainable travel. But with social distancing likely to remain in place for some time, we want to ensure that any temporary changes to our streets allow people with sight loss and other disabled people to continue to get around safely. 

If you have been affected by new infrastructure layouts in your area and would like to take part in this campaign, please contact [email protected].  

If you would like to discuss safe social distancing and accessibility issues during the coronavirus pandemic, contact the RNIB helpline on 0303 123 9999 or [email protected]