Walking with Woody: Barriers to mobility after severe sight loss

In the last of our four posts in the run up to Saturday’s workshop, Shona Black describes her experiences getting around with a severe sight impairment and how our street design and other can make it harder than it ought to be. Our previous posts were from Sally Hinchcliffe, on her eye opening experiences over the summer, and Kirsty Lewin on how her bike is her mobility aid, and Ken Talbot on the freedom (and challenges) of handcycling.

Walk Cycle Vote: I walk, I cycle and I vote. I am also visually impaired or I was last week …this week the politically correct term is severely sight impaired (I think). Anyway I can’t see very well and I have a Guide Dog called Woody. He is gorgeous and my best friend. He is a Golden Labrador/Retriever cross. He is nearly seven years old, a great worker and behaves most of the time. he does have his naughty moments. This only makes him more endearing in my eyes.

Shona crossing the road with her dog Woody
Shona with her dog Woody

While Woody and I are out and about we encounter some difficulties along the way. Some of the worst offenders are cars parked on pavements which force us to go into the road. This puts us both in danger. Wheelie bin day is a nightmare as they are left all over the pavements and again this can mean Woody has to take me into the road to avoid them. At least with wheelie bins they are big enough for me to see when up close.  Another problem is the food waste bins which are small enough for me to fall over and even if people leave them in sensible places the wind can blow them anywhere.

I enjoy walking around with my dog and have an amazing feeling of independence and freedom.  On the other hand going out with my cane is the opposite. I really don’t like using a cane, however there are times when the dog is sick for instance or I am on holiday or somewhere I haven’t been able to take him for some reason when the cane is my only alternative.  My dog will take me round street furniture, scaffolding, roadworks, etc however with the cane I have to find my own way around. I often feel like I am in a pinball machine. I must admit I do get a little too much satisfaction and maybe strike out with my cane a little harder than necessary when I come across cars parked on pavements.

Shona and her tandem
Shona with her tandem

I am also a cyclist and love to be out on my tandem. This gives me an enormous sense of freedom and it is so great to be able to get out in the fresh air (obviously out of the city) and get exercise.  I do get scared when cars pass too closely and get really upset when cars are parked in cycle lanes forcing us into traffic.  As both a cyclist and a walker I feel entitled to say how annoyed I get when people on bikes go  flying past my dog and I on the pavements. Both the dog and I get a fright and there is no need for it. I actually don’t blame some kids for being on the pavements as the roads can be terrifying, however it would be really nice if they slowed down when passing not only my dog and I but other pedestrians. Dismounting would be even better.

There is all sorts of raised paving which is meant to help people with sight loss navigate streets. I for one don’t understand which patterns mean what and I know that the planners don’t either as they are not consistent. Also, I’m not sure if there is a secret with regards to this paving…i have been registered blind (now severely sight impaired) for 25 years,  trained with 5 Guide Dogs and had 3 courses of long cane training and in all this time no one has explained what the meaning of the pavement markings are. Maybe there is a course I need to go on that nobody has told me about.   Another huge  problem people with sightloss are encountering is shared surfaces where cars and pedestrians use the same area. The flaw is that people are supposed to make eye contact with the drivers. Can you guess how this could be a problem? Another issue is the new silent cars.  Really, how is that meant to work for us?

Shona is a resident of Edinburgh and very independent and active. However, in her day-to-day life she comes across many barriers which can impede her mobility. 

One thought on “Walking with Woody: Barriers to mobility after severe sight loss

  1. As a pedestrian I’m very concerned at the suggestion that we should share our space with wheeled vehicles, whether cars or bikes. I find it frightening when there are speeding bikes on the pavement, and I can both see and hear them, to jump out of the way. I hadn’t considered the effect on visually impaired people till reading this article.

    I first became aware of shared space as a planning concept a couple of years ago when a child was killed in Jersey https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-glasgow-west-41147602

    As a driver too, the idea of driving amongst pedestrians is scary. The man whose son was tragically killed says the little boy didn’t know where to run. Clear delineation between drivers, cyclists and pedestrians means each of us can reasonably predict what the other will do, so we are all safer. The way ahead, to me, is to create dedicated cycle lanes, pavements and roads. I appreciate this is not easy, but closing off some roads to vehicles may be one way.

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