Our Mayor Hilary Bushell strapped on the blindfold in Dereham's Market Place on Tuesday 13th March at 10.00am and made her way round the town centre supported by the charity Guide Dogs for the Blind.
For the first half an hour she walked the streets holding onto the arm of charity representative, Helen Sismore, and once she had built up some confidence, she was handed a white stick and attempted to make her way round around the town independently for the next half an hour. The Mayor had been challenged by Graham Darken a member of the Dereham and District Guide Dogs for Blind Group to face some of the challenges that visually impaired people meet every day when walking around Dereham. Graham and his wife Jill are also new members of the Dereham and District Access Group. Linda West our Vice Chair and Kate Wyatt our Secretary were very pleased to be invited by Mrs Bushell to join the group walking around Dereham and see for themselves all the different issues facing visually impaired people.
Ben Rayner from Highways Norfolk CC also accompanied the walk to see the issues we all face first-hand so that he can then recommend any changes that need to be made by Norfolk CC Highways Department.
Mrs Bushell said "I haven't got the best eyesight but at least I can see - how people with serious visual impairments cope I do not know." "This has highlighted a lot of problems in the town, A-boards for example are a nightmare because very few of them are where they should be, which is 1.3 metres from the building." "They are scattered everywhere and when using the white stick I realised how hard it is to get around them as you can only notice parts of it and you don't know whether you are near the front or back. They are also all different heights so you really don't know how to get around them."
Mrs Bushell said that she was also joined on the walk by a wheelchair user who pointed out many of the challenges that they face each day.
"It was an ideal opportunity to highlights these problems," she continued." "This was not to criticise Dereham, but to help it improve and give people a better experience in the town."
"We will be making changes. They can't be done overnight but things are going to be happening."
Two charming students from Northgate school, David and Kayla from year 10 and one of their teachers, Mr MacDonald also joined the group to learn more about issues facing disabled people.
Kate commented, "I was surprised that there were still so many issues that had not been sorted, such as some of the tactile pavements that were missing or incorrectly positioned. I'm familiar with the need for dropped kerbs and the problems with A-boards that we have, but the correct positioning of tactile paving was an education. Now that this walk has taken place the Access Group will certainly be monitoring all the planned changes and working with Ben Rayner as we did with his predecessor."
Photos Courtesy of Puparazzi, Guide Dogs for the Blind.