Highland councillors ‘walk the walk’ in bid to better understand needs of residents with sight loss

Post date: 
Monday, 23 October 2017

23rd October 2017 | RNIB Scotland hopes the initiative will better inform planning decisions.

Ten Highland councillors will take a walk down Inverness High Street today wearing spectacles that simulate sight loss conditions.

Provost Helen Carmichael will join Councillors Roddy Balfour, Ian Brown, Andrew Jarvie, Richard Laird, Isabelle MacKenzie, Emma Knox, Pippa Hadley, Janet Campbell and Trish Robertson, who hope to gain a better idea of the everyday hazards faced by blind and partially sighted residents. 

Advertising boards, bollards, bins and cars parked on pavements are the most common, says sight loss charity RNIB Scotland, which has organised today’s event. A third of people with sight loss it surveyed said they had been injured by pavement obstacles. Some felt so intimidated they ended up staying isolated in their homes.

Inverness resident and member of Inverness Disability Access Panel Roderick Murchison, who has sight loss himself, said: "We know streets can't always be free of clutter. But we can do more to make them accessible for disabled people. That's why we are urging Highland Council to sign up to RNIB Scotland's Street Charter that sets out how best to use legislation and monitor compliance."

Council plans to redevelop Inverness city centre continue to attract criticism from disability groups.

RNIB Scotland will also raise concerns about moves to convert the wynd up to Inverness Castle from High Street into a ‘shared space’. Under ‘shared spaces’, pavements are flattened and people and vehicles all use the same space. Proponents say it encourages more care and attention in drivers.

But RNIB Scotland warns this could create potential danger if blind and partially sighted people no longer have a distinct pedestrian zone separating them from traffic. People who use white canes, as well as guide-dog users, rely on kerbs to give them vital tactile cues for their safety, it says.

The charity points to a 2015 House of Lords enquiry which found that people’s experiences of shared spaces “are overwhelmingly negative”, that over a third surveyed “actively avoid shared space schemes”, and that drivers consistently report being unsure of who has right of way, resulting in “confusion, chaos and constant near misses”.

It warned “councils are risking public safety with fashionable ‘simplified’ street design” and called for “an immediate moratorium on shared space schemes”.

Catriona Burness, campaigns manager for RNIB Scotland, said: “We must be sure that a historic opportunity to transform the centre of Inverness doesn’t inadvertently end up creating a no-go zone for residents and visitors with disabilities.

“We are calling on Highland Council to listen to the concerns of blind and partially sighted people, and others with a disability, to find an acceptable way forward.”