Clear Our Paths: Covid-19 has made our streets an obstacle course for visually impaired

For members of the sight loss community, the move to outdoor recreation and dining means further obstacles, which is why the National Council for the Blind of Ireland has launched its #ClearOurPaths campaign
Clear Our Paths: Covid-19 has made our streets an obstacle course for visually impaired

Umbrellas, chair legs and other obstacles introduced by outdoor dining present a challenge to people with visual impairment. Picture: Larry Cummins

Often when I am out and about walking around Dublin using my cane, I’m concentrating on trying to avoid all the various bins, poles, cars parked on footpaths that for many, are not even a consideration, but for me resemble an obstacle course.

Many of these obstacles are not permanent and just wouldn’t exist if there were consistent public awareness campaigns, educating and challenging people to be more considerate. I am hoping that this piece will help others to better understand the impact of their actions on me and the thousands of others who are blind or vision impaired.

Just for a moment, put yourself in my shoes. Imagine having very limited vision and standing on the footpath outside the Coombe Hospital where there are multiple cars parked on the footpath. Bikes, scooters, cars and lorries whizz past. Do you feel safe? Do you feel confident to keep walking?

This is a regular occurrence for me and many others in the sight loss community. We are navigating our way into situations where we don’t feel safe. It could be outside a busy hospital or a suburban street or a country road; no matter where we are, temporary obstacles are there blocking our path.

Covid-19 has moved much of our usual activities outdoors and because of the Irish weather, an umbrella is never usually far away. Catching up with friends has become an activity to enjoy on many streets and paths outside bars, cafés and restaurants across Ireland. 

It is wonderful to hear the laughing and joking from groups who haven’t seen each other in months, maybe longer. For me, this feeling of joy hearing people catching up is coupled with concern. 

Concern caused by the chairs pulled out away from the tables to allow groups have some space; those umbrellas are poking out from underneath the chair, thankfully not yet needed; people standing around waiting for a table to become free – it is relentless, and this is now the ‘new normal’ for most. 

For people with sight loss, it is just another obstacle to navigate. Getting out in the fresh air is something we all value a little more now that we can venture outside of our 5km radius. 

For people who are blind and vision impaired, it is not always easy to just go for a stroll and let your thoughts wander because we must be alert for potential stumbling blocks. A quiet neighbourhood estate, public park or pedestrian path into a rural town can present its own set of challenges. 

Overgrown hedges taking up more than half of the pathway presents a less-than-enjoyable stroll because once again, we are forced to go out onto the roadway. Worse again are low hanging branches, waiting to hit off our heads or scratch our faces. 

David Kortukohun: "Just for a moment, put yourself in my shoes. Imagine having very limited vision and standing on the footpath outside the Coombe Hospital. Bikes, scooters, cars and lorries whizz past. Do you feel safe? Do you feel confident to keep walking?"
David Kortukohun: "Just for a moment, put yourself in my shoes. Imagine having very limited vision and standing on the footpath outside the Coombe Hospital. Bikes, scooters, cars and lorries whizz past. Do you feel safe? Do you feel confident to keep walking?"

These are all easy to resolve, the homeowners and the council can make sure the pathways are clear. Some are better than others in ensuring this is the case.

As a cane user, another issue I encounter with too much regularity is dog dirt. I urge all pet owners to clean up after their dogs. The prevalence of dog litter is all too common. Unlike other pedestrians, I can’t see it to avoid it so have trodden in it often. 

I have had dog poo on my hands as I try to clean my cane. Not only is this a disgusting experience but also very unhygienic.

We all live in the same society so have a collective responsibility to being more mindful to others and removing these daily challenges. Our actions can make a difference, and our choices can mean we create a safer environment for everyone.

“I’m just parked here for a minute while picking up my takeaway” - that minute costs me a lot.

I support NCBI’s #ClearOurPaths campaign and encourage readers to do likewise – www.ncbi.ie

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