West Tyrone Sinn Féin -- Building an Ireland of Equals

MLA's 'Walk a mile' in the shoes of blind people

Published: 9 October, 2012

Cathal O hOisín MLA, Michaela Boyle MLA and Declan Mc Aleer MLA with their 'sighted guides' after completing a mile in the shoes of blind people.

Cathal O hOisín MLA, Michaela Boyle MLA and Declan Mc Aleer MLA with their 'sighted guides' after completing a mile in the shoes of blind people.

West Tyrone MLA's Michaela Boyle and Declan Mc Aleer walked a mile in the shoes of blind people at the Assembly on Tuesday when they took part in an event to raise awareness of the obstacles faced by blind and visually impaired people in society.

The event was organised by Guide Dogs NI and involved the MLA's walking blindfolded through an obstacle course outside Parliament Buildings. Pupils from Lagan College, Methodist College and Aquinas Grammar helped guide the MLA's through the course.

Speaking after the event, Michaela said: "This was a very practical experience of some of the issues faced by blind and partially sighted people as they try to go about their daily business. Tasks that many of us take for granted like walking up and down steps are huge challenges.

'During the activity I felt quite disoriented and vulnerable, especially when I heard the sound of cars but could not judge how close they were to me. I was totally reliant on the young 'sighted guides' who helped me negotiate the course.

Also speaking after the event, Declan Mc Aleer said 'I found this to be a very effective way to experience what it is like to be blind. Like Michaela, I too felt disoriented and became more conscious of my other senses, particularly those of touch and sound. Whilst the route we walked was referred to as an 'obstacle course', it was in fact just a normal walk that people with sight would take for granted.

'After taking part in the activity, and along with other members of the DRD committee I met a group of guide dog owners to listen to their personal experiences of using pavements and public transport.

'During our exchange, I became more acutely aware of the social and environmental challenges faced by guide dog users. These include obstructions caused by cars parking on pavements and how sandwich boards can be major hindrances.

'Users also pointed out that the concept of 'shared surfaces' which are increasingly common in our town centres, create many problems for guide dogs who are trained to use the kerb for traction and navigation but kerbs no longer exist in such shared spaces.

'The members of the DRD committee listened intently to the concerns raised and undertook to bring these to the attention of the department and the Minister. This was a very commendable and effective exercise and I want to thank Guide Dogs NI and the young 'guides' for giving us the opportunity to walk in the shoes of people who are blind or visually impaired.

'As public representatives, this event has certainly raised our awareness of the challenges faced by people with visual impairment and the experience will influence any future decision making we might be involved in, particularly if it affects the needs of blind people in our community'.