CAMPAIGNERS for blind and partially sighted people in York are fighting for a ban on A boards on York's streets. While business owners say the boards are vital to bring customers in, visually impaired people say they are an unnecessary obstacle that make getting round city centre streets almost impossible.
The RNIB staged a "blind walk" last week to give councillors, officials and business owners chance to experience to difficulties faced by visually impaired people trying to get round York's streets. Reporter Victoria Prest joined them.
The walk began at the York Blind and Partially Sighted Society's Rougier Street headquarters and headed along George Hudson Street to the busy Micklegate junction, turning along Micklegate as far as the Priory pub.
I began using glasses simulating macular degeneration. Peripheral vision for people with this condition is fine, but the centre of my field of vision was heavily impaired - like a thick fog had fallen directly in front of me. With Tracy Dearing of the RNIB acting as my sighted guide I felt fairly safe, but as I moved further down the street more and more obstacles presented themselves.
The first was a series of electrical boxes - they were lined neatly to one side of the pavement so easy to walk round, but my distance vision was so foggy I was almost on top of the boxes before I spotted them. Without a guide to lead me out of the way I would have crashed straight in to the solid boxes and hurt myself.
Distance vision was tricky too and when Tracy told me recognising faces is difficult for people with macular degeneration I found it easy to understand. I couldn't see road signs or shop names from a distance, and concentrating hard on where my feet were going I soon felt disoriented and unsure of my surroundings.
A second pair of glasses let me experience life with no peripheral vision - something common to people with Retinal Pigmentosa.
They gave me only a tiny pin prick of vision to the front, and no idea of where my feet were going or what lay to my right or left. Even though Tracy held on to elbow I could see nothing of her.
She pulled me away from the biggest hurdles on the path, but that didn't stop me tripping on cracked paving stones, bumping into scaffolding poles, and clipping my ankles on an A board.
Crossing the road, bumpy "tactile paving" under foot helped tell me we were at a dropped kerb, and the "spinning cone" on the pelican crossings told me when the lights had changed and it was safe to cross. But that didn't stop a bus running the amber light and flying past the crossing just as I was about to walk into the road. With a guide there to pull me out of the way I was safe, without a guide I would have easily stepped in front of the bus.
Five minutes later the walk was over, and as I walked back along the same stretch of road with my sight restored, I realised how much concentration it took to negotiate a relatively simple footpath without my vision. Sighted, the bins, A boards and electricity boxes that had caused so much trouble with my vision impaired barely registered, and crossing the road took no longer than a moment.