CYCLISTS AND THE VISUALLY IMPAIRED
Ron Roberts is profoundly blind. I often bump into him - in the nicest way, of course. He has a big heart within a big frame. Despite the frustrations of not being able to see those things which most of us take for granted, he always appears to see things on the bright side. He's contributed so much to public life over the years: Town Council, Community Health committee, to mention but two. And he's currently active with Age Concern and the North Wales Society for the Blind. I always feel the richer after chatting with Ron.
The other day I saw him approaching across a pedestrian crossing in Conwy. At the time I was musing on the latest porky pies in the press about how cycling was so dangerous to pedestrians. I decided to ask Ron what he felt about cyclists, and whether he had any personal experiences to draw upon. Being a man of generous disposition, I was sure he would give me an honest and balanced answer without the sort of embroidery we become so accustomed to from those who recoil at the mere mention of the word 'cyclists'.
Ron Roberts: Cyclists are not a problem - but TAKE CARE, SLOW DOWN, and RING YOUR BELL, please.
Ron explained that from a blind person's viewpoint, it is the silence of cycle passage that can be unsettling. The sudden arrival of a cyclist without any warning. Motor vehicles can be heard approaching from a distance. Footsteps, and even the rustle of an anorak can indicate a pedestrian. But cyclists arrive suddenly; which is where the human voice or a bell comes in handy. I asked Ron if he had ever had a pedal cycle collide with him. No, and apparently no near misses either.. However, he hesitated briefly. One incident sticks in his mind.
Some time ago he was walking along a shared use path, when out of the blue a woman's voice asked if he could step aside. She said she hadn't ridden a bike for many years, and felt a bit unsteady and nervous. 'Look at this way, Roy', said Ron, 'I didn't know where she was, so how was I to know which side to step?'. He added 'The public in general needs to be far more 'blindness aware', and not just cyclists'. The fact that he has no animosity towards cyclists was illustrated a few minutes later when his wife arrived, and they both talked warmly of how members of the family enjoying cycling together.
Ron's main concern was pavement excavation work. He described how recently he was on his usual walk when a workman told him he would have to step off the pavement and on to the road, as there was a hole in the pathway. Ron pointed out he couldn't just step into the traffic, whereupon the workman helped him around the obstruction. 'What about when I return?' said Ron, 'Are you finishing today?' 'No' was the reply, 'you'll just have to find your own way'.
But Ron's biggest shock was when he fell down a three foot hole. He didn't know where he was. Groping around he discovered he was sharing space with a high voltage cable!
For the visually impaired, what better way to be out and about?
The overall impression I got from Ron was that cyclists were not as much of a threat as some would have us believe. But like every other section of the public, they needed to be more aware of how they can unwittingly cause distress when they fail to take into account the vulnerability of the blind or partially sighted. As Ron put it, 'Try walking blindfolded around the town for ten minutes, and then you can just begin to experience what profoundly blind people have to cope with daily'.
But to a lesser extent, many of us have impaired vision without being registered as such. How many of us know of motorists who don't like driving in the dark for that very reason? But we all know there are blind cyclists who enjoy life on the back of a tandem. And amongst my personal friends there is one so registered, but the nature of his incapacity still allows him, with care, to ride his bicycle.
But what cyclists and the blind seem to share in common is a frustration with the lack of understanding, and even sometimes the professional incompetence, of officialdom. Just have a look at the barriers below on the National Cycle Route 5 at Colwyn Bay promenade.
Promenade Barriers - In daylight they merge into the background at 25 yards. Invisible at dusk. It would be interesting to see what the Safety Audit says about the Health & Safety of cyclists and the blind!
Footnote. Something Ron didn't mention. Many of us are hard of hearing, including the blind. When you give warning of approach, do make sure you have been heard. Watch for a sign of acknowledgement.