Helping the visually impaired navigate our highways and byways while we #stopthespread

As town centres, shops, pubs and other venues gradually reopened across the county Oxfordshire people experienced several changes designed to keep motorists, pedestrians, cyclists and shoppers alike as safe as possible to #stopthespread.

But for those of us with visual impairments and physical disabilities there can sometimes be issues with road layouts, pedestrian access, and one-way systems, whether there is a need for social distancing during a global pandemic or not. So, in the current circumstances there had been a real need to take account of such people’s views.

In Oxford, that’s where Oxford City Council’s inclusive transport and movement focus group project has come in.

Kate Laybourne from Oxfordshire County Council’s Sensory Impairment team joined her colleagues on the project, visiting potential sites for new bike racks to ensure they do not hinder access for the visually impaired and those with mobility issues.

Kate commented: “One example of how we’ve been able to help involved us steering our transport planners away from one particular site which would have made it difficult for white cane users to tap along the back edge of the pavement; this is one way they navigate around the city centre.

“Instead, we suggested for an alternative location of the racks nearby which would have much less of an impact for people with visual impairments.”

“This is just one example of the work being carried out by organisations and local authorities in Oxfordshire to ensure that those of us with disabilities or are visually impaired can continue to safely access our town centres and highways while we make changes across our town centres across Oxfordshire to tackle the virus.”

Oxford City Council Regeneration Manager Ted Maxwell helped to kickstart the focus group, which has been running regularly since late May.

He commented: “Like most areas of England, we’ve had to make a number of changes in Oxford to make it possible for us all to continue practising social distancing, from extending pavements to implementing one-way systems to keep us all safe during these profound times.”

“However, these changes also had the potential to create issues for many people with disabilities and those who are visually impaired when going into shopping areas. So, we needed to look at how we best supported those who needed it to ensure that they could still get around their city safely. To this end, the City Council created the inclusive transport and movement focus group.”

In May, officers at Oxford City convened the first meeting, through Zoom featuring people with experience of living, working and travelling around Oxford with disabilities, and organisations including KEEN Oxford, Wheels for Wellbeing, Free Thinking Network, University of Oxford, Ruskin College Oxford, a secondary school, and the Sensory Impairment Team at Oxfordshire County Council

Kate added: “We spent some time looking at the Oxford city centre one-way system, and some of the road closures, and how these changes could impact those with disabilities or visual impairment.

“In one instance, we were able to advise on changing the colour of pavement markings so that they provide a better contrast against the colour of the pavement and have worked with partner organisations – notably the Oxfordshire Association for the Blind – to develop audio text that accompanies the map of the system.”

Eunan O’Neill, Consultant in Public Health at Oxfordshire County Council said: We all must adhere to the systems put in place in our town centres to help us socially distance. If we all do this, and follow other guidance including wearing a mask in enclosed public places, and washing our hands regularly, we can help to #stopthespread.