As confident as I may seem, there are things that really frighten me when I am out and about – and these same things can actually put my life at risk!
Shared spaces have been an ongoing (and, sadly, growing) problem in London for decades and it still affects me now that I use a white cane or guide dog as much as it affected me before. And this doesn’t just affect blind and partially sighted people – this issue affects people with all kinds of disabilities. It’s about time that businesses, motorists and councils took this matter seriously.
For example, some shared space areas have removed the dropped kerb and made the pavement and road all one level which is so difficult to identify, especially when tactile paving is not used. I just wouldn’t know when I had entered the road and when I was back on the pavement. It is absolutely crazy that councils would agree for this to be introduced. Guide dogs are trained to recognise tactile paving and kerbs – in shared spaces, removal of this infrastructure means that they are also cannot guide their owner properly.
Blind and partially sighted people have to compromise their safety in all types of shared space situations which can certainly decrease their confidence in getting out and about. All this does is increase isolation and the fear of the worst. I know, because this is how I feel when faced with these circumstances.
This safety is also compromised by inconsiderate drivers who park on the pavement, forcing me to walk on the road, drivers who start to move whilst I’m still making my way across the zebra crossing, or even electric vehicles.
Visually impaired people rely on their hearing in addition to other senses or aids to distinguish when it is safe to cross the road, but electric vehicles, which make less noise than other vehicles, are dangerous, especially if the drivers are preoccupied and not concentrating on the road.
Rubbish bins and bags, bike rails, A-boards and other displays businesses place on pavements are constant obstacles that people with disabilities must try and navigate through. Before using my white cane, I fell over a carpet roll that was on display in front of a shop. I badly injured my hip and knees and was bruised quite a lot. On another occasion, I was shouted at and abused just because I knocked over an A-board, but they had no idea how terrible I felt, how much confidence it took away and how I felt scared of walking on main roads.
Having to walk out into the road with young children to avoid dustbins, overgrown bushes or a vehicle parked on the pavement, terrified me. I would wait for ages until I knew I couldn’t hear the sound of moving traffic, asking my children for confirmation.
I really wish the general public would consider these small factors that could prevent hazards and not put disabled people’s lives at risk.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, you can get in touch with your local council to let them know about the problem. Councils are in a good position to make changes in this area. For example, Hackney Council has announced a zero-tolerance policy on A-boards. You can also contact TfL to let them know about an issue local to you, using this link. TfL launched Operation Clearway in 2015, which aims to tackle part of this problem by engaging with businesses about their responsibilities to keep the pavements safe, and prosecuting businesses who refuse to remove their street furniture.
If you would like more information or to get more involved in this issue, you can get in touch with Transport for All, who have campaigned to make the Government more aware of the problems with shared spaces. You can find out more about the work of National Federation for the Blind (NFBUK) here.
Written by Bhavini Makwana