Transport CommitteeWritten evidence from Shaun McGarry (DAT 98)

I am blind and deaf (virtually black blind, I use a long white cane for my guidance, and quite seriously deaf, using quite powerful hearing aids to give me some useful audio). I am also the vice chairman of the local action group to help raise awareness of our concerns and ideas of Visually Impaired People. See www.gyvipusergroup.org.uk for more details.

The main area of concern is the Bus Transport. Being Blind and still of working age, I have to rely on the local transport for all my journeys. I do not have the luxury or choice of a private car owner or driver, to go anywhere I wish, for example door to door. Many other disabled persons who can drive or even have normal eye vision. Can make the journey and cope with the hassle of finding the destination, coping with changes on route and many other difficulties a journey has the potential to throw at you.

Being blind, we have no choice, and very little spare money to afford a taxi, so have to walk to a bus stop, which is quite often miles away (especially in more remote villages), wait for the bus, in all weather (not many have shelters), asking the bus driver to remember to stop at our destination as many people cannot keep track of the route by the feelings of the vehicle changes in directions so can easily lose their way. And if alighted at the correct bus stop, then a walk to the “door” of where we want to go to.

That is a typical scenario for many blind person and it is quite wearing and stressful to do this on a daily basis, going to work and back home again; for example.

Now we are being told that our public bus transport service is being squeezed because there is no more money and the bus companies do not make enough revenue to keep the same level of service as before, so we feel the impact of those cut-backs, very strongly indeed!

So being blind is a particularly harsh disadvantage to suffer and to cope with, because so much of our society, our community, our leisure is very visual driven, which of course is very natural and that is why blindness is has such an impact on one’s life—please remember that!

It is quite interesting to note that many of the best shops now, are placed in more “out-of-town” locations, providing the huge range of product and better prices. But can the VIP get there? On a bus? The short answer is very, very often no! The bus companies do not recognise that retail parks are a natural destination for anyone who cannot drive a car, so they cannot see a business need. But I think they would be surprised of how many people especially the older generation and of course the majority of the disabled community would actually shop at the larger stores. The “claim” is that when surveys are commissioned, they report very little interest. Well how can you make sure that you are asking the right people? How would someone who is blind and is not connected to the web or emails, cannot read the newspapers, find out about these surveys.

Secondly the designers of these retail parks do not even think of the public transport angle, so they don’t make any provision in their design of the road layouts, car parks, for a bus stop and shelters etc. plus on top of that, the designers do not have footpaths in and around the stores for pedestrians like blind people, wheelchairs and people with prams and push chairs. It is quite common to put parking bays along the front of each store and have narrow edging with bollards to protect the stores from car accidents! We have to cope with all that.

In my town, Great Yarmouth, the train station is not visited by any bus, from any bus companies. Why not? The trains are the major transport system for our country and everyone has to make their way to the railway station to join and start a train journey. But what about a blind person? Most people can drive, or walk and find the entrance of the train station (also finding their way around the car park—again!), but there is no guide for a blind person.

It doesn’t really take much forward thinking, to provide pathways with kerbs to guide a blind person around the obstacles including on the platforms and half the battle is won!

The other half of the battle is the lack of accessibility of the information, at the bus stops, train stations, relying on visual boards, without any voice announcements (not much these days now). The one thing I would say is the general excellent support at railway stations and we can at least ask for assistance once we are in the station.

BUT at a bus terminus, no chance! There is so little money in the buses that none of the companies can afford staff on hand all day to help passengers like us.

There is so much more money in the trains that there isn’t a problem there.

So far I have been writing about different areas and so far they ARE separated! There is no joined up thinking, between designers, engineers, users, transport providers and of course the money suppliers!

We would dearly love to live independently, just like everyone else, be “normal” and be free to decide on what we want to do, so please give us some respect and some understanding of our difficulties of being blind and partially sighted, let alone being deaf as well.

May 2013

Prepared 13th September 2013