October 15 marks White Cane Safety Day, a day to raise public awareness about safety and independence for persons living with blindness and partial sight. The white cane is the most common mobility aid used by blind and partially sighted people in the world. It is recognized world wide as a symbol of freedom, independence, and confidence as it enables a blind person to move about freely and safely.
In celebrating the White Cane Safety Day, the World Blind Union (WBU) is drawing attention to Shared Spaces, an increasing trend found mainly in town centres, where pedestrians, vehicles and cyclists spontaneously share the same space. The WBU is concerned that Shared Spaces, can cause significant safety hazards for blind and partially sighted persons if designed in an unsuitable way. The WBU has developed a statement on Shared Spaces that outlines key principles and recommendations for governments and city planners to consider when designing and implementing Shared Spaces, to ensure easy access and safety for blind and partially sighted people.
The World Blind Union has also established a committee led by Ms. Martine Abel-Williamson, the WBU Treasurer, to monitor issues related to Shared Spaces and develop further guidelines and recommendations. She explains that in Shared Spaces, pedestrians, drivers and cyclists rely on eye contact to indicate when navigating a Shared Space environment. However, “blind and low vision persons are at a disadvantage as we cannot make eye contact with drivers and cyclists to know whether they’ve seen us or not, and decide when it is safe to move into a Shared Space area”. She also observes that quiet/silent cars create more risks for pedestrians who are blind or partially sighted as they are difficult to detect, especially in Shared Spaces, since they do not emit enough sound to be heard.
Ms. Abel-Williamson asserts that governments and city planners should enforce awareness programmes for pedestrians, drivers and cyclists to understand how to use Shared Spaces safely. “We also want suitable technical regulations for safe Shared Spaces to be incorporated in countries’ road codes and local governments legislations.”
The World Blind Union strongly upholds that blind and partially sighted people should live in a world that is accessible, safe and easy to navigate. To mark White Cane Safety Day, the WBU is calling on governments, city planers and other stake holders to consult and include blind and partially sighted people in planning, design implementation and monitoring of safe Shared Spaces.
The World Blind Union also calls for further research and public awareness on Shared Spaces, which we believe is critical to enhance safety for pedestrians especially blind and partially sighted people.
To read the full WBU statement on Shared Spaces, visit their website.
Photo: Mobility training on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City by David de Wit #StrongerTogether