“A real challenge” is how MP Nia Griffith described her experience of using a white stick to try and find her way along the street whilst blindfold.
Ms Griffith said, “I’m grateful to members of Guide Dogs Cymru for their patience in giving me a first lesson on how to walk around safely with white stick while blindfolded. It certainly helped me to get a better understanding of what visually impaired people are up against… And I was on easy terrain, with lots of help and encouragement.
“It has made me aware of some of the challenges that visually impaired people face, and how we need to think about how we can make our town centre easier for them to negotiate.”
Nia’s walk followed on from a discussion with local guide dog users Steve Ricketts and Andrea Gordon, together with Peter Jones – policy officer at Guide Dogs Cymru – about some of the problems guide dog users have encountered. This includes a lack of understanding and support from local bus companies or taxis, as well as the problems of pavement clutter and designing street layout with the visually impaired in mind.
Ms Griffith added, “Wales led the way with talking bus legislation to get all new buses fitted with audio announcements. But I was concerned to hear that, unfortunately, visually impaired people are still encountering lack of understanding from some bus drivers.
“Bus companies need to make sure that all their staff are fully aware of the needs of visually impaired passengers, and we need to ensure that taxi drivers get disability awareness training too.
“In Llanelli Town Centre, at least we have a fully pedestrianised area, and not the nightmare of cars and pedestrians sharing the same space with no kerbs. This can be dangerous, not just for the visually impaired but for everyone.
“But we cannot be complacent. I am grateful to Guide Dogs Cymru for increasing my awareness of the problems, and I will continue to speak up both in Parliament and locally to get the improvements we need.”