Sight Loss Councils call for accessible High Streets

The second phase of the Streets for All campaign calls for local authorities to ensure High Street changes to support social distancing are accessible for blind and partially sighted pedestrians

high street
The Sight Loss Councils have launched a second phase of their #StreetsForAll campaign, highlighting the issues that inaccessible street designs established due to COVID-19 are causing for blind and partially sighted pedestrians.

The Sight Loss Councils suggested that with many local authorities re-designing High Streets to accommodate more pedestrians and cyclists, while promoting social distancing measures, the systems put in place can be inaccessible for blind and partially sighted pedestrians.

This can include one-way systems, temporary cycle lanes, and increased use of outdoor seating areas.

Launching the second phase of the #StreetsForAll campaign, the Sight Loss Councils are calling on local authorities to consult with blind and partially sighted people before implementing new street designs.

The Sight Loss Councils are also asking local councils to pledge to seek guidance from sight loss organisations and blind and partially sighted people on highway schemes at the design stage, and to carry out Equality Impact Assessments to evaluate whether the proposed changes are safe and appropriate for disabled pedestrians. They have also called for local councils to communicate changes in an accessible way.

Mike Bell, senior public affairs and campaigns manager for Sight Loss Councils, said: “We welcome plans to open up more of our streets to pedestrians, but it is vital that any proposed changes are inclusive and reflect the needs of disabled and visually impaired pedestrians.”

Speaking to OT, Mr Bell explained: “Both before COVID-19 and during, one of the key challenges for blind and partially sighted people has been how to navigate High Streets and our town centres safely and independently.

“COVID-19 has seen lockdowns and a plethora of new schemes to encourage social distancing and promote walking and cycling. However, some of these changes have been temporary in nature or poorly thought out,” Mr Bell said, adding that this has made “a difficult situation worse” for those with visual impairment.

Mr Bell explained that many of the visually impaired people that have spoken with the Sight Loss Councils felt that the High Street changes have “knocked back” their confidence when travelling independently.

“We are launching this phase of our Streets for All campaign now, because we want local councils and businesses to think about the needs of blind and partially sighted people and really deliver High Streets that are accessible to everyone,” Mr Bell continued.

The first phase of the campaign highlighted the dangers of e-scooters for blind and partially sighted people.

The campaign will continue into the spring with a focus on street furniture, Mr Bell told OT.

“We will be looking at how street furniture like A-boards and seating, if badly managed and designed, can be a major hazard for people living with sight loss,” he explained.

Sight Loss Councils, funded by the Thomas Pocklington Trust, are led by blind and partially sighted people and work with businesses, charities, local politicians and service providers to improve access to services for visually impaired people.