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Eating outdoors can be great for some and a complete disaster for so many others.
Outdoor seating was a way of creating distance between customers dining in a range of restaurants, coffee shops, cafes and other establishments, but the current guidelines within Pavement Licenses meant businesses across different areas of the UK had different standards to abide by. Some have very limited space for pedestrians to walk past and others don’t have to segregate the outdoor seating area within a pavement, meaning the pavements can become a walking space for pedestrians, a seating area for others, and you can find yourself amongst others who are trying to enjoy their coffee or lunch.
This meant that the registered 2 million blind and partially sighted people (this figure is increasing and more people who are unregistered) are impacted by blocked pavements, obstacles from customers causing further barriers left by chairs and tables when dining outside, poorly designed segregation barriers and the inconsistencies throughout our streets has left many people with vision impairments unable to continue their journeys safely.
Jenny Mulholland, Camden Council Councillor, said:
“We all need to work together to make our streets accessible. No one would want to stay at home or risk injury when they go out because of changes outside of their control, such as roadworks, or tables and chairs being placed on the pavement outside a café. This is something no one should have to accept.”
Blind and partially sighted people told us in a recent survey, that there are times that it is so bad, they have had to turn back and go home, or wait until someone is able to accompany them to a medical appointment or to go shopping for essentials. Others told us that even making a simple journey to drop or collect children from school has become much more difficult and has left many feeling apprehensive about the route going back home alone.
It is really dangerous where very little space is left on the pavement, and you are forced to step onto the streets. With increasing electric vehicles, there is a danger of being hurt, injured or even worse, as these electric vehicles are silent, so vision impaired people are facing dangerous situations by trying to avoid another.
Rehabilitation worker, Dean Apps for the Barking and Dagenham Sensory team in a Local Authority in London, said:
“We train blind and partially sighted people to use a cane safely in different environments and transport modes. We have found through this that outdoor seating has created difficulties for so many individuals we work alongside to be able to navigate the streets”.
Sight Loss Councils (SLCs) Streets For All campaign aims to build positive partnership with local authorities across England to increase street accessibility.
This includes through arranging sim spec walks and vision awareness sessions with senior officials. Sim specs are special glasses which mirror some of the various sight conditions residents have. By using the glasses, people experience first-hand some of the challenges and hazards our streets present.
For long-term change, Sight Loss Councils are also advocating for the development an inclusive pan-disability street charter centred around the social model of disability, and access officers embedded in each local authority area.
Bhavini Makwana, Campaigns manager at Thomas Pocklington Trust said:
“We also know that outdoors seating negatively impacts those who rely upon an assistance dog, wheelchair, mobility scooter or even parents with buggies or prams, who face the challenge of trying to navigate through a tiny space that has been left for pedestrians. You often find that amongst outdoor seating, you have bus stops, A- Boards, cycles or E-scooters to manoeuvre through. So, even before you have made it to your destination, you are left feeling over-whelmed and exhausted by all the barriers, in what could and should have been a straightforward journey”
The results of the survey will be used to influence pavement licensing standards, local authority bodies and will aim to create a more inclusive environment for all.