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Crossing the road as a blind pedestrian

Blog by Yusuf Osman. This blog and its content reflect the views of the author only.

On November 4 Chris Stapleton wrote an interesting blog post entitled “Dropped kerbs – making life easy at road junctions”. Kerb design and delineation is not just an issue for wheelchair users – it really affects the ability of visually impaired people to walk the streets safely and confidently.

Let me say at the outset that I am totally blind and use a long cane to negotiate the external environment at the moment, although I have used a Guide Dog in the past. A well-defined kerb has always been the distinguishing feature that has indicated to a blind or partially sighted person where the road was. A Guide Dog is trained to stop at kerbs, a Long Cane can be used to follow a kerb edge. As Chris points out, this makes it very difficult if not impossible for those using wheelchairs to cross the road, and for this reason we have dropped kerbs at crossings and intersections. But in order to prevent long cane and Guide Dog users from wandering (or blimbering as some of my friends like to call it) out into the road we have blister paving. These are the tactile marks that indicate to someone with little or no sight that they need to be aware of something potentially dangerous like a road, set of steps or platform edge. These make it safer for people with little sight to get out and about safely.

Tactile markers worn down

From the perspective of someone with no sight, the move to completely flat kerbs at intersections and crossings has actually made it harder to cross roads and easier to end up in the middle of them by accident. Let me offer two examples. Shortly after my first Guide Dog had retired I went out on a walk to refamiliarise myself with the Long Cane. I did a route with which I thought I was completely familiar. On reaching a corner at which I was expecting to turn left, I was surprised to be told rather suddenly by the Mobility Officer with me, that I had wandered out into the middle of the road. I had completely missed the tactile paving, and gone straight over the non-existent kerb into the road. The first I knew what had happened I was going up the camber into the middle of the road. Luckily there was nothing approaching and I learned that at that corner I needed to ensure that I remained close to the houses.

The second example involves a controlled crossing where the tactile marks have become worn down near to the road and so makes it hard to distinguish with a Long Cane where the road and the pavement meet. It used to be the case that there was often a small kerb, which in the environment of the tactile marks were detectable because the Long Cane user was expecting it. Incidentally Guide Dogs have been known to have similar problems. Even where the tactile marks have not worn down, it can still be difficult to distinguish the road from the pavement where it is totally flat.

Lack of consistency

I suggest then that where crossings are located to enable wheelchair users to cross safely there needs to be dropped kerbs, but to help people with little or no sight, there also needs to be tactile markings. I would prefer a small kerb, but understand why this would make it harder for those using wheelchairs. There has to be compromise on both sides to enable the differing needs of those who use wheelchairs and those who use Long Canes and Guide Dogs to fully participate in society.

One final remark on something that Chris refers to, which I would describe as consistency, or perhaps lack thereof. Chris describes the nonexistence of dropped kerbs in some places, where you would expect to find them, the same applies to the positioning of control boxes. Some are positioned close to the crossings, others are so far away that it is hard to reach them and remain in the correct position to cross in a straight line. Boxes are angled anywhere from 45 degrees from the road right to 180 degrees. Tactile paving, so useful to enable blind and partially sighted people to locate the crossing point doesn’t always exist where you would expect.

I hope that with the above we can encourage debate and reach a point where we can agree and go forward to campaign for a more accessible and inclusive environment that will allow us all to participate in society.

Want to share your opinion or experiences of London transport as a disabled or older person? We welcome blogs from members: please email raphael [AT] transportforall [DOT] org [DOT] uk,if you have an idea of a blog you’d like to write.