Saturday, September 06, 2008

Pavements' bad condition are dangerous for the visually impaired

THERE are none so blind as those selfish to the plight as those who cannot see... ask Carole Holmes, who is visually impaired, of Squires Gate.

After 19 years of walking alongside one of the busiest main roads in Blackpool and navigating various hazards Carole had an accident – on the pavement – earlier this summer and is only just getting back on her feet.While her faith in her cherished guide dog Ike is unswerving her confidence has been badly shaken and she says there's more others could do to help her – and other blind and visually impaired people – to feel safely part of mainstream society.

Carole is the first visually impaired chairman Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre Society has had since 1910 and has long been a stalwart campaigner for a better deal for blind and visually impaired people locally.A national campaign was launched this summer to clear Britain's street of clutter and other hazards. And while Carole applauds that she also offers a valuable insight into how the closures of valuable local amenities such as post offices and libraries and community centres can really throw customers off course too.

Thoughtless placing of potted plants and pavement "furniture", as well as kids and teenagers riding bikes on pavements, motorists parking on, and even driving over, pavements, trees left overhanging, bushes blocking the path, road and pavement works leaving potholes, and wheely bins straddling the right of way can all prove potentially hazardous.

As Carole has learned the hard way.She explains: "When my eyesight deteriorated in 1988 I was lucky to train with a guide dog. His name was Fenton and in the six years we were together he guided me safely around South Shore, Blackpool town centre and St Annes."Fenton gave me confidence to get out and about independently, get fresh air and help keep fit. About the same time I became involved with Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre Society for the Blind and at least three times a week Fenton and I would walk from the Halfway House area, along Squires Gate Lane to reach the society.

"I always enjoyed this walk and found the pavements wide and uncluttered. Towards the end of the working life of my second guide dog, Petra, which was four years ago, my local Post Office and Highfield Library closed."Ever since then walking my routes has become quite stressful. When I started walking with my present dog Ike, the wheely bin culture arrived on some of my routes and I had to avoid collection days as once the bins were emptied, they blocked the pavements."

Also people seemed to forget or not notice that their bushes and trees were overhanging the pavements and I was regularly scratched and cut by overhanging branches."I have regular bruises on my forearm when cars park opposite to the many electric boxes which have appeared on the pavements."Also, cars actually park fully on the pavement, making it impossible to carry on as they only leave a narrow gap. Wing mirrors don't seem to have much give in them.

I'm sure they used to be on a spring.“In the past 12 months I have narrowly missed being knocked over by cars driving in front of me across the pavement and had one narrow miss with a scooter.“My final hurdle is the teenagers that ride their bikes on the pavement and don’t think to slow down when approaching or passing me and my dog.

“The route I use the most has now become a big worry to me. Last year a businessman erected a row of metal posts to prevent cars driving past his shop.“He’s within his rights but it’s made the natural pavement rather narrow.

“Something on this part of my route did not feel right and many times I would catch the bus to avoid this area.“But one day I stupidly decided to walk home and somehow caught the outside of my left knee on one of the metal posts. I jerked my leg backwards and fractured two bones below my knee. I have spent 14 weeks in a full leg brace, unable to put any weight on my leg.“Happily, I am now recovering and learning to walk again. Now I will have to regain my confidence so I can get out and about with my dog."

“Ironically, since my accident, two more obstacles have appeared, one post showing the way to schools, the other indicating a cycle path.“I really think that the time has come when before any more clutter appears on the pavements,there should be consultation with the local Blind Society or the disability services in Blackpool.“If you’re reading this, for our sake go outside now, and park your car on the road, not on the pavement, and never drive over the pavement.“If you have a garden, go out and check that the trees have been cut back and no bushes are sticking out.“Just have a care. It could be you in this situation one day. And you know the strangest thing of all? I may be visually impaired but most people who run into me, or cut across my path, say they didn’t see me...!”

The National Federation of the Blind in the UK launched the Give Us Back Our Pavements in summer to draw Government, local and central, and the public’s, attention to hazards that confront blind and partially sighted people each day.The federation points out pavements have become more cluttered and hazardous in the last 30 years, resulting in thousands of accidents.


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