#StreetsForAll: ‘I feel more anxious about going out in future’

One-way systems, street barriers and outdoor street furniture are negatively impacting the independence of blind and partially sighted pedestrians.

Agon Klinaku, a severely sight impaired guide dog user, talks about the impact a badly placed street barrier had on his independence when he walked into town to visit the bank.

He explained: “It was the first time I had visited my local town centre since the first lockdown was announced. I knew the route pretty well and I’m usually quite good at remembering my way with my guide dog. Initially I was a little anxious because of everything to do with social distancing, but confident that once I got there, I would be fine.

“As I got nearer to the bank, however, I realised the way I usually walked had been blocked off by some kind of barrier. Not being able to see where the barrier began and ended, I walked around for about ten minutes trying to figure out which way to go, without straying too far from the direction I knew I needed to be heading. Eventually I got passed the barriers by walking on the road, which is far from ideal. Thankfully, the road was empty. I would have been stuck if it was a busy road.

“Once I got close to the bank my guide dog found the door, which is fantastic. It is what she has been trained to do. At that point, someone behind me abruptly said they were standing there. They sounded annoyed and I was confused as to why they were there and why they were telling me in such a forceful way.

“After a few seconds a woman, standing further away, kindly said there was a socially distanced queue outside, and she was at the back. That was the help and information I needed in that situation, given to me in a friendly manner. This is all that is required. I hadn’t seen there was a queue and my guide dog, of course, didn’t recognise the queue as the people in it were standing so far apart from each other.”

Has this experience made you more hesitant to go out in the future?

“I feel more anxious about it, but I hope it doesn’t stop me. Barriers and outdoor queues will most likely continue to be a problem for a while at least. I did get stressed when I had to walk in the road and that might happen again which could be dangerous, but I can’t just stay indoors, waiting for the problems to go away.”

Is there anything this experience taught you, or anything you would keep in mind for next time?

“The experience reinforced that random obstacles can pop up so I need to be prepared, giving myself more time to get to places for instance, but also to keep calm because I know I will figure it out in the end. I think it’s important not to get annoyed with yourself or others around you and to be able to explain your needs in a concise and clear way.

“I would also urge local councils to think of and consult disabled people when implementing new street designs. That barrier blocked my path completely and it was dangerous for me to have been forced into the road to avoid it.”

Our #StreetsForAll campaign is calling on local authorities to consider the needs of visually impaired people when redesigning our streets and to sign-up to a three-point pledge to ensure street designs are accessible for everyone.

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