This week launched our annual Clear Our Paths Campaign, raising awareness of the importance on the public taking responsibility to keep paths clear from obstruction. Something affects all people living with sight loss in Ireland and throughout the world. David Kortukohun, an NCBI service user and advocate from Dublin, penned a blog post on why it is important to clear our paths!
Often when I am out and about walking around Dublin using my cane, I’m trying to avoid all the various bins, poles, cars parked on footpaths that, for many, are not even a consideration but, for me, resembles an obstacle course.
Many of these obstacles are not permanent and, honestly, wouldn’t exist if there were consistent public awareness campaigns, educating and challenging people to be more considerate. I am hoping that this piece will help others to better understand the impact of their actions on me and the thousands of others who are blind or vision impaired.
Just for a moment, put yourself in my shoes; imagine having very limited vision and standing on the footpath outside the Coombe Hospital, where there are multiple cars parked on the footpath. Bikes, scooters, cars and lorries whizz past. Do you feel safe? Do you feel confident to walk on?
This is a regular occurrence for me and many others in the sight loss community. We are navigating our way into situations where we don’t feel safe, it could be outside a busy hospital or a suburban street or a country road. But temporary obstacles are there blocking our path.
COVID-19 has moved much of our usual activities outdoors and because of the Irish weather, an umbrella is never usually far away. Catching up with friends has become an activity to enjoy on many streets and paths outside bars, cafes and restaurants across Ireland. It is wonderful to hear them laughing and joking from groups who haven’t seen each other in months, maybe longer. However, for me, this feeling of joy hearing people catching up is coupled with concern. Concern caused by the chairs pulled out away from the tables to allow groups to have some space; those umbrellas are poking out from underneath the chair, thankfully not yet needed; people standing around waiting for a table to become free – it is relentless, and this is now the ‘new normal’, but for people with sight loss, it is another obstacle to navigate.
Getting out in the fresh air is something we all value a little more now that we can venture outside of our 5km radius. However, for people who are blind and vision impaired, it is not always easy to just go for a stroll and let your thoughts wander because we must be alert – for potential stumbling blocks. A quiet neighbourhood estate or public park, or pedestrian path into a rural town can present their own set of challenges. Overgrown hedges taking up more than half of the pathway presents a less than enjoyable stroll because once again, we are forced to go out onto the roadway. Although, worse again are the low hanging branches, waiting to hit off our heads or scratch our faces. These are all easy to resolve, the homeowners and the council can make sure the pathways are clear. Some are better than others in ensuring this is the case.
As a cane user, I urge all pet owners to clean up after their dogs. The prevalence of dog litter is all too common. Unlike other pedestrians, I can’t see it to avoid it so have trodden in it often. I have had dog poo on my hands as I try to clean my cane. Not only is this a disgusting experience but also very unhygienic.
We all live in the same society so have a collective responsibility to being more mindful to others and removing these daily challenges. Our actions can make a difference, and our choices can mean we create a safer environment for everyone.
“I’m just parked here for a minute while picking up my takeaway” – that minute costs me a lot.
I support NCBI’s #ClearOurPaths campaign and encourage readers to do likewise – Click here for more information and to watch a short video depicting 9 year old Edith’s experience of dog fouling and why it is essential to keep our paths clear.