“TO be blindfolded and experience just how scary it is to listen to the roar of the traffic … I think for many of them they were overwhelmed,” revealed Judith Martin of NCBI.
It was all part of a campaign called Clear Our Paths Day, supported by County Carlow Universal Access Movement (CUAM). The aim of the day is to consider the challenges facing people with disabilities as they access their own town and to make the sighted community aware of the implications of their actions, from the dodgy parking to the discarded wheelie bin.
Cllrs Andy Gladney, Jim Deane and John Pender, alongside election candidate Maria Ansbro, bravely donned the blindfold to experience Tullow as a visually-impaired person last Tuesday morning.
“We thought it was an opportune time, with the election campaign on to bring the candidates around the town,” explained Karl Duffy of CUAM.
“I also wore the blindfold and found it very disorientating; after 20 minutes I had to take it off. I want to acknowledge and pay tribute to the candidates who took part; I think it really gave an insight into what people are experiencing.”
Kieran Graham of CUAM has been visually impaired all his life. “My friends and people who know me accept me for who I am, not what I am,” he explains.
Kieran recounts a recent case where he received a new bank card only to find that, as the background of the card was grey and the lettering pale white, it was impossible for him to decipher.
“I went to customer services and pointed it out to them and they put me in touch with head office, who did apologise for it. I would just ask people maybe to think about disability more and realise that for those who are visually impaired, there has to be colour contrast,” said Kieran.
Noreen Carter, also of CUAM, recalls the famous Mahatma Gandhi quote: “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.”
Noreen admits that since she began using a cane it has allowed her much greater independence, despite an initial reluctance. “Overall, my belief now is that using the cane outweighs any of the concerns I had,” she says.
Judith says it’s a massive step for someone with a visual impairment to go outside their own front door with a cane and let people know they have a visual impairment.
“It is massive to get the courage up to allow yourself to appear vulnerable,” added Judith.
All involved are keenly aware of the challenges to be faced in terms of access, with Carlow Railway Station one of the most significant offenders.
“Obviously there are problems regarding access at the train station, but it’s also the whole area around the station,” explained Judith.
She outlined a case where she was undergoing cane training with a person attempting to access Carlow Railway Station, but lack of footpaths at the end of St Joseph’s Road on the train station side, coupled with parked cars, made the task impossible.
“We know of wheelchair users who have had to get off the train in Bagenalstown and then get ferried back to Carlow – that is unacceptable,” said Karl.
“In general, people are considerate, but more awareness is needed,” he added.