“DRASTIC improvements” are needed in town centres to combat the challenges blind and partially-sighted people face, an MS has said, after a trip around Aberystwyth.
Mid and West Wales MS Cefin Campbell met with RNIB Cymru’s Policy and Campaigns Officer, Rachel Jones, to experience Aberystwyth town centre through the eyes of someone with sight loss last week.
Rachel, 38, was born with retinitis pigmentosa and has lived with deteriorating vision since she was a teenager.
By using a virtual reality headset and an app that simulates different eye conditions, she takes sighted people on guided walks to help them gain an insight into the issues that blind and partially sighted people face when out and about.
Cefin and Rachel navigated their way through the busy streets, from the bustling train station to the promenade, highlighting the barriers along a journey that many would take for granted.
Typical challenges for people with sight loss include unexpected objects on pavements, such as A boards, outdoor seating and parked cars, and safely negotiating spaces where cyclists and pedestrians mix freely.
Crossing roads becomes a difficult task when crossing points are not signal controlled or lack proper accessibility features.
Mr Campbell said: “I welcomed the opportunity to join Rachel in Aberystwyth and learn more about the daily challenges facing blind and partially sighted people.
“From crossing the road, to obstacles blocking the way, to poor street design and public transport problems – it really highlighted how the independence of those with sight issues is too often constrained.
“Experiencing these difficulties first-hand for only a brief period has reconfirmed my view that Welsh Government and local authorities need to make drastic improvements to ensure those who are blind or partially sighted are able to enjoy safe access to our high streets.”
Rachel said: “Consistency of road and street layouts is key to memorising routes and feeling confident to go out alone.
“I lived in Aberystwyth many years ago, but the layout of the streets has changed a lot since the pandemic, making it tricky for me to get around independently.
“By walking with Mr Campbell, we have highlighted the very real barriers to independent living that people with sight loss experience every day.
“When people with disabilities are not involved in the planning of new designs, then our needs aren’t considered and our streets will be less safe.
“We are very grateful to Mr Campbell and his team for joining us.”
As part of a campaign to improve the accessibility of streets across Wales, RNIB Cymru is asking local authorities to prioritise a better understanding of sight loss, and to work with residents with disabilities to create safer, more inclusive spaces.