Edinburgh’s disabled face daily trial busy roads

Derek HowieDerek Howie
Derek Howie
Recently, politicians have been making moves to address accessibility in Edinburgh and the Lothians. When it comes to visual impairments and hearing loss, the Evening News asks if the Capital is doing all that it can to make life easier for those facing daily 

Councillor Derek Howie’s recent resignation from the SNP group on Edinburgh City Council has raised an important conversation on accessibility in the city. He resigned on the same day Lothians MSP Jeremy Balfour announced his support for Action on Hearing Loss’s latest campaign to improve shop standards for deaf 

Cllr Howie, who is partially blind and has a guide dog, does not believe the city is meeting the needs of disabled residents.

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He said: “As I move to the opposition benches I am optimistic this will put me in a better position to bring about the necessary changes to improve the lives of our disabled residents in the city.”

Accessibility for the blind has been a particular concern after the city’s recent street designs were revealed in May, meaning there is a bonus with fewer cars but a drawback caused by the additional number of bicycles – which are silent – on the 

An increase in bus stops requiring people to cross a cycle lane in order to board or disembark a bus is one of the main things James Adams, Director of the Royal National Institute of Blind People Scotland, would like to see addressed.

He said: “We’d want controlled crossings where these are in place and warning signs to alert cyclists when they are approaching them.

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“Even more worrying is the ‘bus boarder’ street design, where passengers and cyclists share the same space on cycle lanes at bus stops. People getting on or off a bus must do so from the cycle lane, which becomes a shared-use area at that point.”

Bus stops can be a place of confusion for cyclists, who may reasonably think someone and see them coming when in reality, the person’s vision could be impaired. The bus stops are also a potential hazard to those with partial to full hearing 

Julie Wilkinson Elder has single-sided deafness, which causes her difficulty interpreting which direction noise is coming from and can sometimes think the coast is clear and it is safe for her to cross a road and when it’s not.

Edinburgh’s accessibility for the deaf is “quite good” in some areas, she said, maintaining that the city does a good job providing hearing loops and seating at cultural events. But she would like to see improvements when it comes to things like crossing the road.

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She said: “The green man at traffic lights could do with being a bit louder. I have to really listen for it. It doesn’t give me very long to cross the road sometimes, say if it was Princes Street.

“I have a lot of balance issues, which quite often go with deafness and sometimes I feel like I don’t get enough time to get across the road.”

Mr Balfour’s support of the Access for All in Retail campaign also highlights the need for improvements in shops. One of the main campaign goals is removing barriers surrounding masks, which inhibit a deaf person’s ability to lip 

Julie offers a possible solution, suggesting: “I don’t feel workers should have to remove masks all together because that’s maybe making them more vulnerable, but if they had either transparent masks or the visors then you can see people’s mouths moving.”

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Agreeing, Mr Balfour said: “I think clear visors are helpful and the way forward. There is a lack of clear masks. There aren’t that many within the market and hopefully more of them will get produced over the next weeks and months, but I think in the short term it will have to be visors.”

Learn more about the Access for All in Retail campaign at actiononhearingloss.org.uk

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