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Councils take steps to understand challenges for blind and partially sighted people

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Community leaders experienced what life is like for people with visual impairments when they went on a town centre tour with a difference.

Representatives from Stroud District Council and Wotton-under-Edge Town Council joined Gloucestershire Sight Loss Council on a tour of Wotton-under-Edge town centre, wearing simulation glasses.

Gloucestershire Sight Loss Council (GSLC) funded by Thomas Pocklington Trust (TPT), is led by blind and partially sighted members. Together, they tackle local issues and work with businesses and service providers to improve the accessibility of their services. 

The walk aimed to give a brief experience of the challenges faced by blind and partially sighted people navigating around the town.

Sight Loss Council members were joined by members of Stroud District Council’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Working Group; Councillors Natalie Bennett (Chair) and Robin Layfield; representatives from Wotton-under-Edge including Cllrs Jon Turner and Roger Claydon; and staff members Diana Hyam, Phil Wilson, and Andy Burns, with District Councillor Ken Tucker.

Each community leader wore a pair of simulation glasses, which simulate a particular eye condition. They also used a white cane for assistance. The Sight Loss Council then asked them to make their way from Wotton-under-Edge Town Council office around the town centre.

The simulation walk was led by Alun Davies, Wayne Hands and Julie Stephens from the Gloucestershire Sight Loss Council, who were joined by Julie’s guide dog Heidi. They also spoke about some of the challenges and wider experiences of blind and partially sighted people navigating the area.

Julie Stephens, Gloucestershire Sight Loss Council member, said:

“It was an absolute pleasure to meet representatives from Stroud District Council and Wotton-under-Edge Town Council today. They made us feel extremely welcome. Their positivity and enthusiasm, to do what they can to make their areas more accessible, was truly commendable.

“I would like to sincerely thank SDC Corporate Policy and Governance Manager Hannah Emery, and Robin for so expertly guiding Heidi and I around and for their audio description which brought the area to life. I very much look forward to being able to work with them in the future.”

Wayne Hands, Gloucestershire Sight Loss Council member, said: “It is always so rewarding to see the reactions of those who take part, and the realisation of the barriers blind and partially sighted people face daily. 

“Raising awareness and the implementation of just some minor changes can have wide reaching results that can make a town more accessible for everyone.” 

Councillor Bennett said: “One of the council’s three main priorities in the Council Plan is strengthening and supporting our communities so people feel included and connected, and this is just one way of doing that. I’m very grateful for the tour which showed us some of the challenges which blind and partially sighted people face.”

Cllr Roger Claydon from Wotton-under Edge Town Council said: “It was enlightening to experience the wide range of conditions experienced by blind and partially sighted people. We got some very good tips about how to make the town safer for blind and partially sighted people which we will be following up with traders in the town and District and County authorities”.

The session saw the group discuss changes that could be made to make high streets more accessible for blind and partially sighted people. Feedback from the session will be used to inform future policies around design and improvements in accessibility.

Alun Davies, from the Thomas Pocklington Trust, added: “The Trust supports Sight Loss Councils all over the country to bring about positive change in the lives of people who are blind or partially sighted. We do this by working in collaboration and partnership with many diverse organisations. This simulation spectacle walk is a prime example of partnership working, and we look forward to it opening up other avenues for working with Stroud.”

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