High Sheriff of Norfolk experiences life as a blind person

The Countess of Leicester walked around Fakenham blindfolded accompanied by Guide Dogs officer Helen Sismore, to experience what it's like to be blind/partially sighted. Picture: Ian Burt The Countess of Leicester walked around Fakenham blindfolded accompanied by Guide Dogs officer Helen Sismore, to experience what it's like to be blind/partially sighted. Picture: Ian Burt

Tuesday, January 21, 2014
6:30 AM

The High Sheriff of Norfolk, the Countess of Leicester, backed a campaign for clutter free streets after experiencing life as a blind person.

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The Countess of Leicester walked around Fakenham blindfolded accompanied by Guide Dogs officer Helen Sismore, to experience what it's like to be blind/partially sighted. Picture: Ian BurtThe Countess of Leicester walked around Fakenham blindfolded accompanied by Guide Dogs officer Helen Sismore, to experience what it's like to be blind/partially sighted. Picture: Ian Burt

Lady Leicester spent two hours walking around Fakenham wearing a ‘mindfold’ which is like a blindfold but designed to give a more realistic experience of total blindness.

She described being blind as “my biggest dread” and returned to several shops afterwards to explain how they could make life easier for blind and partially-sighted people.

She was joined yesterday by representatives from the charity Guide Dogs for the Blind, which is running the campaign Streets Ahead to improve conditions on our high streets for blind and partially-sighted people.

Lady Leicester said: “It has always been my biggest dread to lose my sight and today’s experience brought home to me how we who are lucky enough to have our sight must be more aware of those who are blind or partially-sighted.

“Whilst being led around Fakenham I became very aware of the enormous number of hazards blind people face whilst walking around the town - cars on pavements, cracked pavements, motorcycles and bikes parked in inappropriate areas and A-boards.”

Lady Leicester was led on her walk by Guide Dogs For the Blind’s community engagement officer for East Anglia Helen Sismore and four guide dog users of varying levels of visual impairment.

Lady Leicester said: “It was very humbling to be with four very brave ladies with their guide dogs and a campaign to improve conditions for people like them is much needed.”

Ms Sismore said one in 12 people at the age of 60 are expected to experience sight loss.

This figure is one on five for people aged 70 and one in two for people aged 90.

Guide Dogs for the Blind wants to ensure streets are clutter free, for A-boards to be abolished or placed close to shop walls and for the charity to be consulted by councils on planning applications and high street design issues.

She said a similar experiment to that carried out with Lady Leicester in Fakenham was run in King’s Lynn, with the mayor, before Christmas and this resulted all Norfolk County Council-managed buildings in the town to stop using A-boards and for a consultation to be started with businesses in King’s Lynn’s Vancouver Quarter.

Ms Sismore said: “Many businesses in Fakenham are already making the effort which is good to see but improvements need to be made.”

To find out more about the Streets Ahead campaign, go to www.guidedogs.org.uk/support-us/campaigns

Is there enough support for blind and visually-impaired people where you live? Send your views to EDPLetters@archant.co.uk, remembering to leave your name and address.

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