Guide Dogs staff share their world with Brighton and Hove politicians

Posted On 28 Apr 2013 at 10:19 am

Two Green politicians recently took a stroll around the Seven Dials wearing masks which blocked out all light.

Staff from the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association invited the pair to learn about some of the challenges faced daily by blind people and those with partial vision.

Caroline Lucas, the MP for Brighton Pavilion, and Councillor Christopher Hawtree, chairman of the Brighton and Hove City Council Planning Committee, have both written about their experiences.

Dr Lucas said: “A walk that would normally have taken two minutes took me ten, such were the challenges involved.

“I felt extremely vulnerable and disorientated. It was an inspiring and humbling experience.

“It also made me more aware of the impact of street clutter. Guide Dogs staff told me about their campaign, Streets Ahead, which encourages businesses to rethink the positioning of boards and street furniture.”

Councillor Hawtree, who represents Central Hove, “road-tested” a guide dog called Edward. The labradoodle is about to finish his training.

Councillor Christopher Hawtree walks around the Seven Dials without being able to see

Councillor Christopher Hawtree walks around the Seven Dials without being able to see

Councillor Hawtree said: “Strange to say, my foray into salsa dancing came in handy.

“To walk with a guide dog is a matter of taking the right first steps and having the confidence to lead as much as to be led.

“It is a case of keeping at the right distance from him, so that he can judge available widths, and not holding back but allowing him to keep up a pace.

“This is mutual confidence, one’s left hand (it is always the left one) grasping both a handle and a lead.

“In this case, there was an additional lead, held by the trainer, rather like a driving instructor having a set of pedals to use in an emergency.

“It became apparent that although the arrival of hybrid and electric automobiles will bring quieter streets, the blind and the deaf will not be able to judge whether they are in the vicinity.

“Discussions are under way with manufacturers to incorporate sounds through a loudspeaker – something which grew from the possibility of customising a Fiat to sound like an Aston Martin.”

He praised Diane Marks, from the Hove branch of Guide Dogs. She was recently turned away by a taxi driver. The incident is being investigated.

Her experiences may hasten attempts to make cabs better for people with disabilities.

The council and taxi trade have held long-running talks on the subject. They have been complicated by the fact that vehicles adapted for one disability may make life harder for those with another.

Councillor Hawtree said: “Diane Marks has a great laugh, a relish of life, a spirit which shames those serial moaners for whom existence appears scarcely worth their while.

“Any article upon blindness invariably finds a place for Milton’s poem upon his own experience of it.

“Perhaps even more pertinent is Paradise Lost: ‘The mind is its own place, and in itself / Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.’

“Only an estate agent would make so celestial a claim for Dyke Road.”

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