December 10 2013 Latest news:
Wednesday, October 9, 2013
Charity volunteers have warned that a maze of market stalls and advertising boards in King’s Lynn town centre is making it more difficult for blind and partially-sighted people to get around.
As volunteers from Guide Dogs for the Blind helped a blindfolded west Norfolk mayor Liz Watson around the Vancouver Quarter, to show her what it was like to be unable to see, current guide dog owners said the problem is getting worse.
Gill Southgate, who is completely blind, said: “There are a lot more obstacles about than there ever used to be.”
Other difficulties include motorised scooters, with Mrs Watson saying after she was guided round by community engagement manager Helen Sismore: “They are the biggest hazard of the lot. You just can’t hear them.
“When you are blindfolded you are very reliant on the other senses. Hearing is the one that is heightened.
“Without Helen being there, I wouldn’t have known where they were.”
Mrs Sismore added that shoppers in general often do not take notice of people around them, as they are thinking about other things
Mrs Southgate, who has been assisted by three-year-old guide dog Yazmin for the past two years, added: “Sometimes it can be very awkward and I rely totally on Yazmin to keep me safe.
“The market stalls are an extra hazard you have to contend with.
“Yazmin is forever zig-zagging in and out trying to find her way.
“It is very disorientating when you need to try to find shops which you need to go in. I think it is getting worse.”
She has called for all advertising boards to be kept at a close distance to shops, so guide dogs and their owners can follow the line of the buildings, and said action should be taken to ensure cars are not parked on pavements.
Mrs Sismore added that many people with sight problems are not completely blind, so it can be helpful to make objects as colourful as possible to increase the chances of them being seen.
Mrs Watson said the experience of being led around blindfolded was “very disorientating”.
She added: “I didn’t realise how many hazards there are.”
Vancouver Centre manager Paul Clifford said feedback from the blind and partially-sighted would be very welcome.
“Anything we can do to make the area more conducive to all shoppers is of benefit to everyone,” he said.
However he added that there was a “balance to strike” with the need for street furniture such as bins and signs.
He also said the town centre was growing and was particularly busy on market days.
He invited the group to visit the centre to suggest improvements.