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Southend sight-loss charity advises council on how to make high street more accessible during social distancing

06 Aug Southend sight-loss charity advises council on how to make high street more accessible during social distancing

Lucy Martin, CEO of local independent sight loss charity Southend in Sight and volunteer Gary England joined staff from Southend-on-Sea Council and Southend Business Improvement District (BID) for a walk about in Southend High Street on Thursday 30 July to advise them on some of the problems facing visually impaired people as they try to navigate a once-familiar space that has now changed whilst also having to manage social distancing, new queuing systems and barriers that they have not faced before.

The lockdown and the subsequent measures in place to ease it, have led to a fast changing situation for the visually impaired and the local authority as it attempts to make the streets and retail premises safe for everyone. The charity is working with the council and the BID to meet some of the challenges it and local businesses are facing and Gary England, who is a volunteer for Southend in Sight and visually impaired himself, gave some valuable first hand advice to Suzanne Gloyne, Southend BID Manager and Carl Robinson, Director of Public Protection at Southend-on-Sea Council, about ways to make the high street safer and more easily used by the visually impaired.

Gary said: “Some of the challenges I and other visually impaired people face now are the new queuing systems that have been put in place in many shops and cafes which we are not always aware of. Signs about social distancing that are placed on the floor or are in small print are not easy for us to notice. Barriers that are the same colour as the pavement or that merge into the background are difficult to negotiate and I advised Suzanne and Carl that contrasting colours would be more helpful. Suzanne and Carl were very keen to learn about making the high street more accessible and paid great attention to our advice and ideas. It was nice to be listened to.”

Cllr Trevor Harp, cabinet member for health and adult social care at Southend-on-Sea Borough Council, said: “I’d like to thank both Lucy and Gary for giving up their time to explain to our officers the challenges people with visual impairments face while going about town in this new age of social distancing.
“We want everyone to be able to feel safe and confident to live as independently as they can during this pandemic. Their specialist insights are an invaluable tool in furthering our understanding how we can make our High Street as accessible as possible for people with visual impairments, so that we can promote their independence while also benefitting local trade.”

Lucy Martin said: “We know that many people have lost confidence over lockdown and this was a positive step to help those who are starting to venture out. If people see others struggling with one-way systems or feel they are too close in a queue, we’d remind them that the person may have a visual impairment and not be aware of the new systems in place and may just need to be asked if they need a little help and advice.”