Did you ever play Blind Man’s Buff when you were young? If you did, it was played in a safe environment that you were familiar with.
Or can you remember suddenly being plunged into darkness in a power cut?
I was reminded of both of these situations when I read a document that the Department for Transport had sent to all councils in England reminding them of their duty, under The Equality Act (2010), to make all streets fully accessible to everyone, bearing in mind the needs of disabled people.
Hurrah, hurrah and hurrah again. The Oxford Transport and Access Group has been campaigning for a good many years about this, but our strong advice has been ignored, leaving some places no-go areas for disabled people.
So what has made this latest reminder necessary? It is the latest fashion, called Shared Streets, that is being adopted by many highways departments.
These are streets where there are no markings or kerbs separating the traffic from pedestrians and, in some places, councils are even doing away with traffic lights. So why is this so important to disabled people, in particular to those with visual difficulties?
When a guide dog steps down a kerb the harness on the dog will make a downward movement and stepping up it will make an upward one, thus warning the owner about a kerb.
Guide dogs will not recognise a removed kerb or lowered kerb and are likely to walk straight over it and the owners could find themselves among traffic.
A coloured or textured line is no replacement for a kerb as guide dogs cannot recognise them and, dare I say it, many motorists do not either; or is it that they choose to ignore them? After all, we know that pavements were put there for pedestrians but cars, vans, lorries and bicycles seem to think they have equal rights.
So how can we make sure that streets are there for all? First and foremost council officers must consult appropriate disability groups for their advice.
I hope any future schemes will contain a perimeter footway wide enough to allow a white cane user to circulate freely and safely by using the cane to feel the shop fronts as well as controlled crossings where the audible signal is a clear indication that it is safe to cross.
How about this for an example of good practice – Sefton Council is the first and only council in the country to decide that all future roadworks must have a clearly defined and raised kerb in order to make safer pavements for blind people.
At the meeting where this was discussed every single councillor voted for the adoption of this policy. Congratulatons to them. Could we be confident that our council would do the same? You must make your own judgement.