Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by the National Federation of the Blind of the United Kingdom (WTC 41)



  For the past 50 years the Environment has been designed for the motorist and the able-bodied pedestrian. Very little thought, if any, has been given to the needs of pedestrians, elderly and disabled people, especially blind and partially sighted people, deaf-blind people and blind people with additional disabilities.

  Currently, there are one point seven million blind and partially-sighted people in the United Kingdom. This number is likely to double in the next 10 years according to the World Health Organisation, so the needs of blind and partially-sighted people should be taken into consideration when planning the environment. This must include housing, shopping facilities, pavements, roads and public transport.


  To ensure that blind and partially sighted people can be as mobile as possible for as long as possible, living accommodation should be so designed and built that it is accessible for everyone and is built within reach of schools, churches, shopping and leisure facilities, within safe walking distances. So often in the past housing estates have been built miles away from local facilities, without bus services to reach them. Out of town supermarkets and leisure facilities have been built out of town and this has made these facilities no-go areas for a large proportion of the population, including blind and partially sighted people, who do not have access to a car. It has also meant that local small shops have been closed down. Many blind people, especially those losing their sight in later life, need an incentive to go out, many want to continue to collect their weekly pension from their local Post Office. Unfortunately, over the past 10 years many local Post Offices have been closed down, this has made it very difficult and in many cases impossible for blind people to walk to or reach a Post Office. Where Post Offices have been put within a supermarket or larger store it has made it extremely difficult for blind people to find their way around.

  Houses and other living accommodation that has been built in an Open Planning design has made it very difficult for blind and partially sighted people to find their way around. These areas do not have walls, fences or gates, it is therefore impossible for blind people to know where they are up to in a street or a housing complex where there are no roads.

  People who are already blind would not choose to live in such an area, and this has limited their choice of living accommodation, but for the person who is already living in an Open Plan area and then goes blind, they find it very difficult to find their way around, even with a guide dog it is very confusing without any fixed location points such as gates and fences.

  Many housing estates and blocks of flats are built without any grassed areas, this again makes it very difficult for blind people with guide dogs, as there are no toilet relief areas for the dogs. Many people complain about dogs' mess and yet no builder or planner considers building such facilities. Local authorities should consider building such facilities adjacent to public buildings. Consideration is always given to car owners, providing garages and car park space, but never to the dog owner.

  With the increased numbers of blind people in the next 10 years there will also be an increased number of guide dog owners. It is not only necessary to build such facilities for guide dog owners in their home environment, but for the guide dog owner who will visit friends and relatives, go on holiday or visit shopping and leisure facilities. A safe free-running area should also be provided for guide dogs; with restrictions in parks in towns and cities it has become very difficult to find anywhere for a guide dog to have a free run.


  All housing, including bungalows, houses and flats should be designed and built that they are accessible for everyone. This is "Life Time Housing".

  Parents with young children using prams and buggies need level access and ground floor toilets.

  People using shopping trolleys or carrying luggage for holidays need level access.

  People using wheel-chairs, walking frames, crutches or sticks need level access.

  All these categories need storage space for their buggies, prams, wheel-chairs, trolleys, crutches, walking frames and luggage.

  All elderly people, including blind and partially sighted people need level access.

  Windows should be designed so that they can be reached and opened by everyone, but secure and safe for children.

  Doors are one of the biggest hazard for blind people. All glass doors are a real danger for partially sighted people. Automatic opening doors will help many people, including wheel-chair users and blind people. Sliding doors are also easier to use, and less hazardous for blind people, as an ordinary opening door can be left half open and blind people then walk into them, receiving many bumps and bruises on their forehead.

  Internal steps should be avoided, but where stairs are built, handrails should be provided both sides and should extend beyond the top and bottom step.

  Architects and builders should consult with people with disabilities before building either domestic or public buildings.


  All footways, footpaths, pedestrian areas and promenades should be designed and built for pedestrians use only. Cyclists should not be allowed on such walking areas and vehicles should not have the opportunity to drive or park on them. This means that they must be designed so that vehicles cannot have the opportunity to access these walking areas. Over the past 30 years bollards have been introduced to prevent vehicles from parking on pavements. These bollards have cost billions of pounds, have been very hazardous for blind and partially sighted people, causing many accidents and injuries, are very unsightly and have achieved very little. If walking areas were better designed there would not be a necessity for such obstacles.

  Any street furniture should not cause an obstruction or hazard for a blind person. Moveable obstacles such as A-Boards, shop displays, tables and chairs should not be allowed. If cafes and restaurants want to have tables and chairs outside their premises on the pavement, then they should be within a fenced or walled enclosed area, but they should not extend onto the footway or footpath. In the last few years such obstacles in towns and cities have made it impossible for pedestrians to walk safely and in some streets have had to walk in the road as there has been no space left on the pavement.

  Pedestrian areas and promenades should have seats that are covered so people can rest and shelter from the rain and hot sunshine. They should be positioned so that they are easy to find. but not an additional obstacle. A tactile information strip across the pavement would lead the blind person to where the seat is located.

  All of these areas should be well lit at all times. All streets should be well lit and kept cleaned. Rubbish bins should be provided. These bins should be at ground level and either attached to the seating area or a wall, but should not be free-standing or at head height, where they would become another obstacle. Bins should not have sharp edges and should be in a contrasting colour to their background surround.

  Lighting columns, traffic signals and other street furniture should not be positioned in the walking area, as they create another obstacle for the pedestrian, especially for blind and partially sighted people. They also restrict the width of the walking area, which makes it very difficult for people using wheel-chairs and for people who have to walk together, like parents holding the hands of young children or people pushing a double buggy or elderly people who help each other by walking together side by side, holding an arm. Blind people are often escorted and a blind person with a guide dog will often have a shopping trolley or even a young child with them. This is why the width of the pavement needs to be sufficient to take into account all these considerations and why fixed street furniture should be very carefully positioned.


  There should be shelters at all bus stops, these shelters should be positioned at the kerb edge and should be enclosed, should protect passengers from bad weather, and passing vehicles that might splash them.

  Shelters should be well lit, not made of all glass and should be in a bright colour, contrasting to the colour of the pavement.

  All shelters should have seats and should have a telephone or a communication system with the bus station.

  Information about the times and routes should be given at each bus stop in a format that can be read by everyone, including blind and partially sighted people.

  The Czech Republic have developed an Audio Information System for blind people that is used for bus, tram and Metro information. This system is now being used by four thousand blind people and should be extended to all parts of Europe.

  Roads should be designed to make it possible for accessible buses to give a regular service to passengers to enable them to travel to work, to school or to the shops.

  If this frequent bus service was available it would make the mobility for blind and partially sighted people a lot easier, and it may well reduce the numbers of people driving their cars for short journeys.

  Tram routes should be developed but they must run along the side of the roads adjacent to the pavements as when they are in the middle of the road it is too dangerous for blind and partially sighted people to find them and reach them safely to make use of them.

  It would be safer for everyone if cycling facilities were built in the middle of the road instead of tramways so they were kept completely away from the pedestrian. There should be no shared facilities for cyclists and pedestrians built anywhere, as a cycle is an untaxed, unlicensed and usually ininsured vehicle, and has injured many people and is stopping thousands of blind people from walking safely and confidently.


  In the late seventies the National Federation of the Blind instigated a tactile paving that was a compromise between the needs of blind people who needed to locate a pedestrian crossing and to detect whether they were on the pavement or in the road and a person using a wheel-chair who needed a ramped kerb. The Federation also campaigned for audible and tactile signals for all pedestrain crossings. Although many towns and cities have introduced some of these facilities, many have not and we would recommend that all roads have safe pedestrian crossings with audible and tactile information for pedestrians. We do not welcome the introduction of Toucan crossings for cyclists and pedestrians, as they are extremely dangerous and as mentioned above, cyclists should not be allowed to travel with the pedestrian.

  In some countries the pedestrian signal box for the crossing has a sound ticking mechanism which blind people find very useful in locating the crossing and this should be introduced into the UK.

  We would recommend that the audible Puffin crossing is the best designed crossing currently in use, as well as the audible signal that is placed on ordinary sets of traffic lights where they have a complete red phase. This should be installed on all sets of traffic lights to make the crossing of roads safer for everyone including blind and partially sighted people.


  We would welcome the opportunity to discuss these recommendations with you and will be prepared for these recommendations to be published.

J. Allen-King MBE
January 2001

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