December 9 2013 Latest news:
By Sam Russell
Friday, September 28, 2012
PUZZLED locals scratched their heads as a blindfolded man fumbled his way down Regent Road wearing a smart suit.
But there was no cause for alarm, as Great Yarmouth MP Brandon Lewis had agreed to the experience to better understand the struggle blind people face each day.
The newly appointed junior minister was led past bustling market chip stalls, down an escalator in Market Gates and across the busy road opposite the Troll Cart pub.
And the reason for the stunt was serious - to try to stop the blind and partially sighted losing out when new disability benefits are introduced from 2013.
Siobhan Meade, 28, of Great Yarmouth, arranged the day with campaigners from blindness charity the RNIB.
She lost her sight as a teenager and must rely on her guide dog Mac to get about, but is worried new legislation will not sufficiently recognise the needs of those with little or no sight.
“There’s a lot going on with regard to Disability Living Allowance (DLA) benefit and I felt it was really important I got Brandon Lewis to experience what it’s like,” she said. “I wanted him to see just how difficult it is to do a simple route - the barriers faced by blind and partially sighted people on a daily basis.
“I hope he takes on board what he’s witnessed himself and takes that back to his colleagues in government.”
The new Personal Independence Payment (PIP) will replace DLA from 2013, and Siobhan took it upon herself to show Mr Lewis just how difficult it is for her.
She prepared a route around Yarmouth and often left Mr Lewis trailing behind as he struggled with his blindfold, despite help from Emily Papaleo, regional organiser for the RNIB and his guide for the day.
Mr Lewis said: “I was much more aware of the noise and more nervous of what I was doing.
“If you asked me before, I would have said I’d know where I was - but I was trying to second guess.
“I lost track of where I was just before Palmers.”
He added short distances felt a lot further and he “became more aware of things you take for granted, like A-boards. He concluded: “I will certainly feed this through to colleagues.”
Ms Papaleo stressed his experience could only begin to convey how difficult life is for the blind - he did not go to buy clothes without being able to see, negotiate a cafe with unfamiliar furniture and could take his blindfold off afterwards.
Mr Lewis had previously been on a blindfolded walk around St George’s Park, but said negotiating the busy streets of Yarmouth posed a far greater challenge.