BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.
banner

BBC Radio 4 In Touch
23 September 2008

Listen to this programme

Factsheet of this programme
Transcript of this programme

Print this page

Factsheet

URBAN PLANNING
Guests: Tom Pey, Director of External Affairs, Guide Dogs for the Blind Association;
Andrew Cameron, Director of Urban Design at WSP, the consultancy advising the government on urban design.

According to research carried out by the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, over one hundred and eighty thousand blind and partially-sighted people are reluctant to leave their homes by themselves because they are frightened of their surrounding environment. The research also found that many of those who do go out alone use no more than 2 routes.

The GDBA says claims this trend will increase, if the current movement towards creating shared surface areas continues. Shared surface areas are urban spaces designed without kerbs, where pedestrians and drivers move around in the same area.

CONTACTS

THE GUIDE DOGS FOR THE BLIND ASSOCIATION (GDBA)
Burghfield Common
Reading
RG7 3YG
Tel: 0118 983 5555
Email: guidedogs@guidedogs.org.uk
Web: www.guidedogs.org.uk
The GDBA’s mission is to provide guide dogs, mobility and other rehabilitation services that meet the needs of blind and partially sighted people.


DISABILITY RIGHTS COMMISSION (DRC)
Freepost MID 02164
Stratford-upon-Avon
CV37 9BR
Tel: 08457 622 633
Textphone: 08457 622 644
Web: www.drc-gb.org
The DRC aims to act as a central source of advice on the rights of disabled people, while helping disabled people secure their rights and eliminate discrimination. It can advise on the operation of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA).


VIDEO MAGNIFIERS

Ian Macrae and Geoff Adams-Spink discussed video magnifiers.
The four magnifiers mentioned were:

  • Shoppa Magnifier

  • Smartview Nano from Humanware, £125 excl VAT.

  • Smartview Pocket from Humanware £350 excl VAT

  • SenseView Duo, from RNIB and other distributors £650 excl VAT


GENERAL CONTACTS

RNIB
105 Judd Street
London
WC1H 9NE
Helpline: 0845 766 9999 (Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm)
Tel: 0207 388 1266 (switchboard/overseas callers)
Web: www.rnib.org.uk
The RNIB provides information, support and advice for anyone with a serious sight problem. They not only provide Braille, Talking Books and computer training, but imaginative and practical solutions to everyday challenges. The RNIB campaigns to change society's attitudes, actions and assumptions, so that people with sight problems can enjoy the same rights, freedoms and responsibilities as fully sighted people. They also fund pioneering research into preventing and treating eye disease and promote eye health by running public health awareness campaigns.


HENSHAWS SOCIETY FOR BLIND PEOPLE (HSBP)
John Derby House
88-92 Talbot Road
Old Trafford
Manchester
M16 0GS
Tel: 0161 872 1234
Email: info@hsbp.co.uk
Web: www.henshaws.org.uk
Henshaws provides a wide range of services for people who have sight difficulties. They aim to enable visually impaired people of all ages to maximise their independence and enjoy a high quality of life. They have centres in: Harrogate, Knaresborough, Liverpool, Llandudno, Manchester, Newcastle upon Tyne, Salford, Southport and Trafford.


THE GUIDE DOGS FOR THE BLIND ASSOCIATION (GDBA)
Burghfield Common
Reading
RG7 3YG
Tel: 0118 983 5555
Email: guidedogs@guidedogs.org.uk
Web: www.guidedogs.org.uk
The GDBA’s mission is to provide guide dogs, mobility and other rehabilitation services that meet the needs of blind and partially sighted people.


ACTION FOR BLIND PEOPLE
14-16 Verney Road
London
SE16 3DZ
Tel: 0800 915 4666 (info & advice)
Tel: 020 7635 4800 (central office)
Web: www.afbp.org
Registered charity with national cover that provides practical support in the areas of housing, holidays, information, employment and training, cash grants and welfare rights for blind and partially-sighted people. Leaflets and booklets are available.


NATIONAL LEAGUE OF THE BLIND AND DISABLED
Central Office
Swinton House
324 Grays Inn Road
London
WC1X 8DD
Tel: 020 7837 6103
Textphone: 020 7837 6103
National League of the Blind and Disabled is a registered trade union and is involved in all issues regarding the employment of blind and disabled people in the UK.


NATIONAL LIBRARY FOR THE BLIND (NLB)
Far Cromwell Road
Bredbury
Stockport
SK6 2SG
Tel: 0161 406 2525
Textphone: 0161 355 2043
Email: enquiries@nlbuk.org
Web: www.nlb-online.org
Trustees from the Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB) and the National Library for the Blind (NLB) have agreed to merge the library services of both charities as of 1 January 2007, creating the new RNIB National Library Service.


EQUALITY AND HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION HELPLINE (England)
Freepost RRLL-GHUX-CTRX
Arndale House
Arndale Centre
Manchester
M4 3EQ
0845 604 6610 - England main number
0845 604 6620 - England textphone
0845 604 6630 - England fax
Mon, Tue, Thu, Fri 9:00 am-5:00 pm; Wed 9:00 am-8:00 pm (last call taken at 7:45pm)

EQUALITY AND HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION HELPLINE (Wales)
Freepost RRLR-UEYB-UYZL
3rd Floor
3 Callaghan Square
Cardiff
CF10 5BT
0845 604 8810 - Wales main number
0845 604 8820 - Wales textphone
0845 604 8830 - Wales fax
Mon, Tue, Thu, Fri 9:00 am-5:00 pm; Wed 9:00 am-8:00 pm (last call taken at 7:45pm)

EQUALITY AND HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION HELPLINE (Scotland)
Freepost RRLL-GYLB-UJTA
The Optima Building
58 Robertson Street
Glasgow
G2 8DU
0845 604 5510 - Scotland Main
0845 604 5520 - Scotland Textphone
0845 604 5530 - Scotland – Fax
Mon, Tue, Thu, Fri 9:00 am-5:00 pm; Wed 9:00 am-8:00 pm (last call taken at 7:45pm)


DISABLED LIVING FOUNDATION
380-384 Harrow Road
London
W9 2HU
Tel: 0845 130 9177
Web: www.dlf.org.uk
The Disabled Living Foundation provides information and advice on disability equipment.


THRIVE
The Geoffrey Udall Centre
Beech Hill
Reading RG7 2AT
Tel: 0118 9885688
Email: info@thrive.org.uk
www.thrive.org.uk
http://www.thrive.org.uk/gardening-for-partially-sighted-people.asp
www.carryongardening.org.uk
Thrive is a national charity, founded in 1978, whose aim is to research, educate and promote the use and advantages of gardening for those with a disability. Thrive’s vision is that the benefits of gardening are known to, and can be accessed by, anyone with a disability.
Thrive has been supporting blind gardeners for over 30 years, and established the Blind Gardeners’ Club with RNIB in 2006 to help gardeners share information and techniques. Membership of the club costs £9 a year.


The BBC is not responsible for external websites 

General contacts
Back to top


Transcript

IN TOUCH

TX: 23.09.08 2040-2100


PRESENTER: MANI DJAZMI

PRODUCER: CHERYL GABRIEL


Djazmi
Good evening. This week we ask: Is progress in town planning causing some blind and partially-sighted people to become housebound. And later - two In Touch regulars making a welcome return - Ian Macrae and Geoff Adams-Spink will be casting their eyes over some of the latest portable video magnifiers.

But first, according to research carried out by the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association over a hundred thousand visually-impaired people are reluctant to leave their homes by themselves because they're scared of the surrounding environment and many of those who do go out alone use no more than two routes. The GDBA says these alarming statistics will increase if the current trend of creating shared surface areas continued. Shared surface areas are urban spaces designed without kerbs where pedestrians and drivers move around in the same space. The idea is that pedestrians avoid serious injury by using eye contact with drivers, so not exactly the ideal solution if you're visually-impaired. Tom Pey from Guide Dogs was speaking about this issue at a town planning conference in Leeds last Wednesday. I went along to talk to Tom but first caught up with some local blind and partially-sighted people who told me exactly what they think of shared surface areas.

Vox pops
People have a dedicated pathway, that's a pedestrian right of way and you feel safe and secure actually using that. When you talk about shared surfaces it's basically the loss of that security - the loss of the path from the experiences that I've had and others have had - and it's the dangers that are inherently associated with an individual pedestrian being mixed with road traffic and actually feeling that you're the poor relative when it comes to any confrontation between a vehicle or a pedestrian.

We're asking for a tarmac pavement which has got a different colour or we're asking for paving stones, so that we can distinguish between the shared space area and the pavement.

They do say that the driver should have eye contact with you. They can't have eye contact with me because I've no sight whatsoever. In fact I'll take me eyes out and wave them at them.

Actuality from planning conference
If I said to you go down a dark alley in the middle of the night on a Saturday night when people are coming out of the pubs and they're all drinking would you do it? Because I'd tell you it's safe - no you won't do it because commonsense tells you something else. And commonsense tells a blind person that if I'm not safe or I don't feel safe to go into a place, I'm not going to go into a place.

Djazmi
That's an excerpt from a speech made at this conference by Tom Pey, who's director of External Affairs at the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association. So Tom, why are you here?

Pey
Today I just wanted town planners to know how angry blind and partially-sighted people really are. I don't want people to underestimate the degree of emotion that there is around this topic. You know we've had guide dog owners who have had near misses; we've had people with white canes who are staying away from their town centres; we have people in areas where they're going to other towns to shop. And this is happening across the United Kingdom and it isn't the way the Disability Discrimination Act and the great social visionaries saw the way things should be for blind and partially-sighted people or for other disabled people for that matter. But that's the way they're turning out.

Djazmi
Have any visually-impaired people actually been injured while using a shared surface area?

Pey
Well funnily enough we've done research into this and the answer to that is not that we can find. But there's a very simple reason for that and that is because in the research that we have done both in the United Kingdom and across Europe is that blind and partially-sighted people stay away from these environments.

Djazmi
Shared surface areas in Leeds have so far been restricted to its suburbs and people like Tim McSharry, who's the partially-sighted head of access and diversity at an independent disability organisation called the Access Committee for Leeds, say they're determined that no more of the city becomes a shared surface area, especially not here - the popular city centre.

McSharry
What we're really calling for is a bit of basic Yorkshire commonsense here in Leeds. We're really calling on the local elected members to impose a moratorium on any shared surface development until we've all had chance to actually evaluate the dangers that are inherent in that whole concept. On paper people might act in a particular way but in reality and in practice etiquette doesn't come into it, we've had plenty of people gesticulating in certain ways and shouting certain expressions about how me and colleagues should get on the path and stop causing problems on the road when there's actually no path there to actually get on to.

Djazmi
We've been reporting the issue of shared surface areas on In Touch for well over a year and Tom Pey from Guide Dogs says the organisation is prepared to do whatever it takes to stop anymore from being created.

Pey
Guide Dogs - we are so angry that the trustees have taken what we see is an historical decision and that is that they have authorised us, as executives, when we find areas of bad practice where the rights of blind and partially-sighted people have been trodden upon by uncaring local authorities we are now empowered to bring them to court and we will be doing that. So that we can get the planners to listen to us because we have tried for two years to do it on an interactive rational basis. We're still going to engage on a rational basis to try and talk this through but at the same time I think the time has come when we insist on the rights of blind and partially-sighted people being acknowledged by local authorities and being dealt with so that the environment, which are going to last for up to 30 years, don't not just keep me away from the centre of my town but keep my children and my grandchildren away from the centre of town.

Djazmi
So have you taken a local authority to court yet, are you planning to?

Pey
Yes, we have a number of local authorities that we're looking at, you won't be surprised to know that I am unable to talk about it in detail but we're looking - we've got at least five that we are examining in some detail. We would hope that it doesn't actually have to go to court, that these local authorities are going to put things right in a reasonable way, rather than having the courts of this country design their streets for blind people, we think that the real people who should be designing it are our town planners and our architects.

Djazmi
Tom Pey, sounding in very uncompromising mood. Listening to that was Andy Cameron, director of urban design at WSP Group, which is one of the consultancies advising the government on urban design. Firstly Andy, just explain the rationale behind shared surface areas.

Cameron
Shared surface is not a new idea in terms of a way to treat our streets and public spaces and there are many obviously in place already, there are over 4,000 in Europe. I think key to the rationale behind it is obviously consultation and engaging with as many groups as possible to get something that works for as many people as possible. The notion of designing streets and spaces that can actually serve the needs of everyone is very difficult, if not impossible, there's always going to be a compromise somewhere. But the rationale behind it is very much about clearing streets of their clutter and I think there are a lot of benefits for those who may be blind or visually-impaired - just getting rid of the signs, the railings, the clutter in our streets, which could make it hazardous.

Djazmi
So just answer some of the questions which were brought up in that report. First of all, how do blind or partially-sighted people get around the theory of making eye contact with drivers in order to stay safe?

Cameron
Well obviously they can't because of the definition of blind and visually-impaired people. The notion of shared space is very much about perhaps changing culture - the way that drivers behave in these sort of spaces, by creating them where drivers are perhaps a little bit more confused at what's going on, they do slow down, it does create a safer environment for all and they do rely on the driver being aware of someone who may be in that environment if they have a guide dog or a cane, it relies on the driver you know being their eyes and behaving in a responsible manner which we find is what people do when they're driving five or 10 miles an hour, they don't start to mow down blind people or children or anyone, they do behave as reasonable human beings.

Djazmi
But what about if you're someone who has what's known as an invisible disability? It's all very well if you've got a cane or a dog but if you're partially-sighted or if you're deaf or if you have learning disabilities and you're not obviously disabled, drivers are obviously going to be less inclined to be as considerate as they are with obviously blind people, how do you suggest that invisibly disabled people get round that problem?

Cameron
Again it's relying on the driver, them having clues about how they should behave in that environment. There is some work that's going on in Tokyo at the moment where in a district of the city they're going around putting little microchips in everything in the street - microchips in the kerbs, microchips in where the crossings are, the lampposts and what have. And then if you're disabled you can actually get equipment that tells you where all things are - whether it's something you're listening to or something you can feel in the palm of your hand. And I think, you know, we haven't got there in this country yet but certainly technology could have a huge role to play in giving anyone with any sort of disability a tailor-made service for the street environment. And so may be in a few years time we will have streets where you're getting a visual map of exactly what's going on, whatever your disability is.

Djazmi
Tom Pey from the Guide Dogs association was sounding pretty fed up with the state of affairs, to the point that he's saying that talking hasn't really got them very far and they're thinking of legal action. So I mean how much consultation has there been with blind or partially-sighted people?

Cameron
There's been a lot of work done - our company wrote government guidance that came out last year, called Manual of the Streets, which looked at how we rethink the way in which we design streets in this country and in Wales. And this took 30 years to rewrite the old guidance and it talks a lot about putting the pedestrian, the cyclist, those with disabilities first in the pecking order. It talks about shared space within that guidance but recommends there does still need to be more research. Clearly you know if there are 4,000 schemes in Europe which are working very well and have been for many years now there is a lot of precedence to suggest that it does work well. And maybe we need more research here, I'm sure we do, with the Guide Dogs for the Blind, with other groups as well, to come up with solutions that are really serving the needs for as many as possible.

Djazmi
Do you agree that as things stand the concept of shared surface areas is one which many visually-impaired people will regard as deadly and will put them off going into those areas and if those areas become town centres will ostracise them from their society?

Cameron
I don't think I do, I think that's rather strong in terms of - you know that they're deadly. There's already some great shared space environments up and running in this country - there's Grey Street in Newcastle which is a level street and it does have some change in colour of the materials on the ground but no change in texture. And a very slow speed environment - five miles an hour for cars - and I've seen blind people using it, I've seen people in wheelchairs using it and it works incredibly well. It was also voted the best street in Europe a few years ago, so clearly some people think that this sort of treatment has merit if it's being given accolades and awards. And it is being used by literally tens of thousands of people a day.

Djazmi
Certainly sounds promising for the future. Andy Cameron thank you very much indeed.

And we welcome your thoughts and experiences, do let us know by calling our action line on 0800 044 044.

Now though we turn our focus to video magnifiers. They're not something I've ever had to use, being totally blind, but they are invaluable companions in all sorts of scenarios for partially-sighted people like my two guests Ian Macrae and Geoff Adams-Spink.

Now you've brought in four magnifiers between you. Geoff, let's kick off with you, what have you got?

Adams-Spink
Well I've got one called the Bierley Shoppa and as its name would imply it's being heavily marketed towards people who perhaps want something to take to the supermarket with them so that they can read those inaccessible things and bus timetables and railway timetables - things like that. Now Bierley market this as being very definitely at the low end of the cost spectrum, I mean it's around £300, but in terms of taking this out shopping I'm really not sure. It's a seven inch screen, it's quite heavy - to be honest it's a bit like taking a plasma TV out with you. Pocket sized it is not. However, in their defence Bierley do tell me they've got a smaller model in development, which they'll let me have as soon as it's out and about.

Djazmi
How does that compare with what you've got Ian?

Macrae
Okay, I'm going to start with one that's from Humanware, it's called the Smartview Pocket. It's about the size of a PDA - a personal digital assistant - if people are familiar with those. It sits on a stand, which means that the screen, which is about five inches, maybe four inches, across, is sort of angled towards you and I'm going to alter the magnification - maybe hear that beep as I do that - it goes up to nine times magnification. The things that I don't like about this, first of all it took - well in fact it took Geoff to work out how to use the stand because I couldn't, despite the fact I'd looked at the manual. And secondly, I don't really like the quality of the image in it. You can convert the stand into a handle as well and use it in that way.

Adams-Spink
And I think a general point to make about these things when you're reviewing them is that it's such a broad spectrum - low vision - that you know what Ian thinks is fantastic I could think is hopeless and vice versa. So anybody looking at these would be well advised not to take mine's or Ian's word for it but to go and try a whole load of them for themselves because it's just very much what suits your needs isn't it Ian?

Macrae
Yeah absolutely. That one costs £350 excluding VAT by the way.

Adams-Spink
As does the Bierley one.

Djazmi
And it's worth saying that VAT isn't added on to anything which is adapted or designed for disabled people.

Macrae
Exactly. So the next one I have is the most expensive and the most functional of the three that I've got. This is called the Sense View Duo and it's called the Duo because it has two functions. It has a camera at one end, which allows you to work closely, magnification goes up to 10 times on this one. But in addition to that close camera, you can switch it into distance camera mode and I've used this, for example, to check the - what are called the describer boards - the boards that give you information in where trains are going on the London Underground system. Now there's a focus wheel to help you in distance mode. It is quite fiddly getting the focus right and of course by the time you've got the focus right you might well have missed the information that you were particularly looking for on a board or something. But in terms of my work where I'm often required to look, for example, at page layouts on computer screens because I'm a magazine editor, it's something that would be both useful to me for that purpose and for looking at the finished printed material. So it's got versatility in terms of my requirements at work. But £650.

Djazmi
It's a lot of money.

Macrae
If I had to put my money where my mouth is thankfully I wouldn't have to spend very much of my money for this last one. It's the Smartview product again, and it's called the Nano, exactly the size really and shape of a mobile phone with a screen that's about the same size as a mobile phone screen. Again you switch it on, it sits flat on the material that you want to read, it only read close stuff but you can get up to 20 times magnification on this - 20 times. You can go into negative, so that you can get white lettering on a black background at the touch of one button. But the two things that really recommend this to me, apart from the quality of the image which I personally find comparable with the £650 Sense View one, the things that recommend it are one, it's size, the second is its price, comparatively affordable at £125.

Djazmi
Good value you would say. That's great, thanks for those. Just finally, before we go, I just want to talk about something which interests me about this. How important is it to you both, when talking about equipment, this issue of inconspicuous accessibility, I mean are you bothered about how your magnifier or whatever portable equipment you've got out with you looks or does it have to be practical first then trendy looking?

Macrae
I would say that I wouldn't be very comfortable using the big Sense View magnifier in public. It is big, people would wonder what you were doing. Using it in a theatre or somewhere similar if you were wanting to see what was happening on the stage I think you might well get the management coming to you and saying actually you're not allowed to video in here and I'd say well I'm not videoing etc. etc. In general, I think it depends on the kit, if it's for Braille really I couldn't care what it looks like because it gives me access to Braille and that's what I want. But if it's for something that I'm going to use in a conspicuous way then I want it to be a bit inconspicuous really.

Adams-Spink
There is a good comparison with mobile phones here. With optical magnifiers the technology was fairly static, you got a certain fixed magnification and you got a light or you didn't get a light. With these things they're being developed all the time, they're becoming lighter, they're becoming cheaper, they're becoming more portable and more functional. You have to dip your toe in the market at some point but like mobile phones there are new ones coming out all the time.

Djazmi
Now I suppose if you're in a shared surface area you can always wave them at drivers if you can't take your eyes out.

Ian Macrae and Geoff Adams-Spink thank you very much.

Well that's all for this week. Remember we'd love to hear from you on your thoughts on shared spaces, magnifiers or anything else that you want to tell us about. Our action line number again is 0800 044 044. Peter's back next week but until we meet again from me Mani Djazmi, producer Cheryl Gabriel and the team, goodbye.




Back to top


About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy