Sight loss charity RNIB recently held two special blindfold walks in the centre of Bath to help give an insight into the many obstacles faced by blind and partially sighted people in busy urban areas.
There are around 340,000 people registered blind or partially sighted in the UK and an estimated two million people are living with sight loss that affects their daily lives.
However, streets in towns and cities are designed from the perspective of sighted people.
More than a dozen design engineers, project managers and local councillors from Bath and North East Somerset Council took part in the training exercise on Friday, 14th January.
The session was so over-subscribed, the charity had to run two separate walks in the city centre.
The events were led by RNIB’s regional campaigns officer for the South West Steve Hyde, who provided participants with special ‘sim specs’ which replicate common eye conditions and gave a guide to the different types of canes used by those with sight loss before setting off.
Starting from outside the Guildhall, the route took the first group of eight through pedestrian areas introduced at the start of the Covid pandemic to assist with social distancing, and shared spaces areas created in 2016.
During the walk, potential hazards were highlighted and upon arrival at the shared space area of Seven Dials, the difficulties of navigating a pathway through moving vehicles became apparent.
The carriageway was particularly busy making it very difficult to negotiate, and the group found it difficult to find a moment when there was a break in the traffic.
Stationary obstacles included low seating benches, cycle racks, tables and chairs and a row of e-scooters.
The group expressed their anxiety when reaching their destination where they rendezvoused with the next group, who Steve then guided in the opposite direction back to the Guildhall.
Steve said: “I think the second group got a taste of what was in store when they heard from the first group about how anxious they felt navigating the narrow and busy streets.
“That’s the reality for blind and partially sighted people when they want to do something as simple as travel to work by foot or meet friends in the city centre for coffee.”
“It was a highly successful event and I was glad so many people were able to attend and get a fresh insight into what needs to be done to make our built environment more accessible.”
Mr Hyde said he had been asked many questions throughout the morning and had invited further questions and reflections from participants via email.
He said he was looking forward to working closely with the local authority to influence change and help make Bath more accessible for blind and partially sighted visitors and local residents.
Councillor Dine Romero, cabinet Member for Children and Young People, Communities and Culture said: “I would like to thank Steve and RNIB very much for arranging this recent meeting with me and the council’s officers.
“It was very informative, and it provided a real insight into the challenges blind and partially sighted people experience daily on our streets.
“It has given our teams much to consider when designing future highway-based schemes.”