FIFE’S COUNCIL leader tried walking in the shoes of a blind person to experience how frightening simply visiting a town centre can be.
Councillor Alex Rowley rose to the challenge set by a St Andrews resident fed up with the obstructions caused by advertising A-boards and other street furniture.
After removing his blindfold he pledged to tackle the issue and investigate what powers the local authority has to reduce the hazard posed by pavement signs.
He told The Courier, which organised the walk in St Andrews with the help of Fife Society for the Blind, the experience had shown him first hand the dangers blind and partially-sighted people face on a daily basis.
Mr Rowley walked along South Street using a long cane and wearing first a blindfold then glasses which restrict the field of vision.
He said: “Not to have your vision and be able to see where you are walking is very frightening, even for a short time.
“For people who have no vision or partial vision, this is a reality for them.”
An A-board which had fallen over presented a particular problem, even when Mr Rowley’s vision was only partially obstructed.
He said: “I knew there was one sign in front of me but there was another flat on the ground and I didn’t know it was there until I hit it with the stick.
“It really showed me how dangerous something like that can be.”
Mr Rowley is meeting FSB early in the new year and said A-boards would be on the agenda.
However, he ruled out a “Big Brother approach” of banning the signs.
He said: “We need to look for a fair balance in supporting the commercialcentres but recognising that this is clearly a problem.
“My intention is to look at what we are doing in Fife already, what powers we have and whether we should be dealing with this area by area, including Dunfermline and Kirkcaldy.
“This is not just an issue in St Andrews.”
Around 2,000 people in Fife are registered blind or partially-sighted, but it’s reckoned 4,000 more struggle silently with failing sight.
FSB client services manager Jill Beaton said: “A lot of our work involves developing strategies to build up clients’ confidence and street furniture, which is an unknown, has a negative effect on that confidence.
“It is an awareness issue.
“Only once you are made aware do you actually start noticing the number of signs there are out there and realise how much of a problem it is.”
Keen to see action to educate traders on the dangers of pavement advertising, she said: “One step would make a big difference to people’s ability and confidence in going out and about.”
Catherine Rowe, who inspired Mr Rowley’s walk when she spoke out in The Courier urging leading Fife councillors to see for themselves the obstacles blind people face, called for a zero tolerance approach to A-boards like that taken by Dundee City Council.
She said: “We would like to see zero tolerance in Fife and we would like to see some sort of legislation to ensure the cafes and pubs with tables and chairs outside have them fenced in so they cannot encroach on the part of the pavement for pedestrians.”
She also pointed out that the difficulties were far greater when the town is busy with students and tourists and during the summer when there are more tables and chairs on the pavement.