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“Blindfolded walk” explores accessibility for blind and partially sighted pedestrians

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Some of our transport engineers and councillors got a fresh perspective on the challenges of navigating one of Exeter’s most popular streets on a recent visit organised by the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB).

Local campaigner Marilyn Lant was joined by RNIB regional campaigners officer Steve Hyde to meet with our representatives for a blindfolded walk along Exeter’s leafy Magdalen Road which is home to many independent shops.

The road was chosen as it had been part of one of the Department for Transport’s Emergency Active Travel Schemes during the COVID-19 pandemic. The road was made one way to vehicles – while allowing contraflow cycling – as more space was given to the footway to enable the public to socially distance while still using local shops and services.

The temporary measures are being replaced with a permanent scheme early next year. Steve and Marilyn explained some of the challenges faced by people who are blind or partially sighted, particularly in relation to:

  • the height of kerb transitions from footways to carriageway;
  • street clutter and furniture blocking footways;
  • issues with tactile paving;
  • difficulties with hearing approaching cyclists.

There was an opportunity for the assembled councillors and transport planners to wear a range of ‘simulation specs’ which replicate the visual perception of someone with a number of different eye conditions.

The group also learnt about the different type of canes people with sight loss use and spoke to Marilyn about her experience as a guide dog owner.

Steve Hyde, RNIB’s Regional Campaigns Officer, said: “I was very pleased to be able to welcome so many representatives of Devon County Council to come and experience our blindfold walk event in Magdalen Road recently and to hear subsequently how useful everyone found it.

“Across the South West, many changes were made to our town and city centres in response to the pandemic and in many cases, provided an opportunity to make lasting changes to our built environment which are better for the future of how we travel. We must ensure the voices of blind and partially sighted pedestrians are heard as these changes are implemented so that we can travel independently and safely and support great independent business centres like Magdalen Road.”

Councillor Stuart Hughes, Cabinet Member for Highway Management, said:

“We very much welcome the input from RNIB’s regional campaigners in sharing their experience of walking in our local streets. We will ensure that feedback from walks such as this will help inform the detailed design of future schemes.”

Zsolt Shuller, Principal Transport Planner for Devon County Council, said: “Transport planning tends to involve a lot of time sat behind a desk writing strategies, looking at data and reading guidance documents. This is a necessary part of the role but it’s also important to balance this with time spent out immersing yourself in in the areas and communities to ensure proposed schemes will be fit for purpose.

“The blindfolded walk offered by RNIB was therefore a great opportunity to experience the environment around the Magdalen Road area of Exeter from the perspective of someone who was blind or partially sighted.”

The detailed design of the new one-way system is still being finalised but work is expected to start in 2023.