A blind Edinburgh man is helping to promote a nationwide drive to highlight the hazards that people with sight loss face on the street.
Alan Dudley (67) is one of three subjects of a social media video produced by the charity RNIB, which shows him negotiating obstacles on Leith Walk in the capital with his guide dog Gemma.
“Leith Walk always has been a difficult place because of the amount of traffic and pedestrians that are there,” said Mr Dudley. “I think over the last five, ten years or so, traffic has become much heavier, and I think it's a little more scary these days with street furniture and crowds of people.
“So, one has to be very, very careful when you're walking about and try to be aware of what's happening around you.”
RNIB has made the ‘How I See’ video with Alan and two other people with sight loss, Elise Crayton from Kingston and Pardy Gill from Leicester.
The campaign follows a call by the Department of Transport to local authorities in England and Wales to halt development of ‘shared spaces’ schemes. Under these, pavements and kerbs are levelled so people and vehicles all use the same surface.
Proponents say it encourages more care and attention in drivers. But the Department for Transport has now said these ‘just don't work for visually impaired people’ and is reviewing its official guidelines.
James Adams, director of RNIB Scotland, is urging the Scottish Government to follow suit. Transport and urban planning is devolved to Holyrood.
“People like Alan who are blind or partially sighted face real danger if they no longer have a distinct pedestrian zone separating them from traffic,” Mr Adams said. “White canes and guide-dog users rely on kerbs to give them vital tactile cues for their safety. Where shared spaces already exist, people with sight loss have said they feel much less confident using them.”
RNIB is also launching an online toolkit which supporters can use to pledge their support for people with sight loss and lobby their local authority. This includes template letters to councillors, a briefing on the law concerning local planning, and contacts for further support.
The charity has been pressing for a wider rethink of urban planning since 2015 when it launched the RNIB Street Charter. One third of blind and partially sighted people surveyed then said they had been injured by obstacles like advertising boards and bollards when walking outside.
Mr Adams said: "Introducing new design features that end up creating no-go zones for residents and visitors with disabilities would be a major step backwards for our towns and cities. We want all public spaces to have inclusive crossings and kerbs and tactile markings.
“Current shared space design fails to properly address the needs of people with sight loss, so we are calling on the Scottish Government to follow the Department for Transport’s decision to pause shared space schemes.”
Over 170,000 people currently live with a significant level of sight loss in Scotland. To sign up to help support RNIB to make streets #SafeToCross, visit www.rnib.org.uk/safetocross. For more on the campaign, visit rnib.org.uk/shared-space.