Blindfolded walk in Barnstaple shows need for accessible streets

Steve Hyde explains to participants some of the difficulties navigating Barnstaple for people with sight loss

Steve Hyde explains to participants some of the difficulties navigating Barnstaple for people with sight loss - Credit: RNIB

Campaigners from the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) held a recent blindfolded walk around Barnstaple to highlight the obstacles to accessible streets faced by blind and partially sighted pedestrians. 

North Devon resident Simon Harvey invited Steve Hyde, RNIB’s Regional Campaigns Officer for the South West of England, to hold a blindfolded walk in the North Devon market town. With the town centre’s regeneration on the horizon, it demonstrated the importance of accessible streets for all. 

Along with local councillors and officials, Simon and Steve were joined by Selaine Saxby, North Devon MP and RNIB champion. Wearing sim specs, glasses with filters to simulate sight loss caused by different eye conditions, the sighted participants were able to experience some of the difficulties blind and partially sighted people face undertaking daily journeys. 

They encountered many obstructions, such as café and restaurant furniture and cars parked on pavements, as well as the challenge of ‘shared use’ areas, where vehicles drive over spaces used by pedestrians. 

Steve said: “During our walk, some examples of poor street design we found, including: incorrect tactile paving used on a slope, broken tactile paving partially replaced with tarmac and a puffin crossing ending in a highly cluttered area. This short walk really did demonstrate the importance of ensuring pedestrian crossings are accessible and lead to obstacle-free pavements and walkways.” 


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Steve gave a presentation on various forms of eye conditions and the different types of canes people use, with a quick demonstration on how to walk with a cane, setting the scene before the walk. With an improved understanding of sight loss and what it’s like to navigate local streets, RNIB hopes local decision makers will appreciate the need to put accessible streets at the heart of regeneration plans for the historic town centre. 

Selaine Saxby MP said: “The challenges faced by people who are visually impaired in our society are great and made far more difficult by for example, cyclists who should not be on pavements, and obstacles such as bollards, planters, and uneven surfaces.” 

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Rob Ward, Town Clerk of Barnstaple Town Council, added: “It has made me realise in some detail how certain small decisions can make such a difference.” 

More information on RNIB’s campaign work for inclusive journeys can be found at www.rnib.org.uk/campaigning/priority-campaigns/inclusive-journeys

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