Blind in the city

He could do without the noise in Utrecht. When you’re blind, it hits you extra hard. But Tom Hessels takes it as a blessing that he can’t see any advertisements or traffic signs. “You all see – what would it be – a few thousand of them a day. What’s the point of that?”

Hessels works for the Bartimeus Foundation for Accessibility, the centre for expertise which focuses on internet accessibility for users with disabilities. He gives computer and internet lessons to the blind, for which he travels by train from Lelystad to Utrecht three days a week. That’s no mean feat, given that the centre of Utrecht is like a building site these days. “Well, the most annoying thing is the noise, and the cyclists who almost run you over. And my dog guides me through the middle of everything. A lot of people think that he knows the way, but without my commands we would end up at the pet shop. I tell him: left, right, find the pole, find the stairs . The navigation system on my iPhone is a big help. It’s great, that iPhone. You can set it to speak all of its prompts out loud. With my phone and the internet – I have a Braille keyboard – I’m connected to the world. “Sighted people are guided through the city by images. I use other senses to orient myself. Scents and sounds. The guide lines on the pavement are mostly to help people who walk with sticks. I don’t use a stick anymore, because when I was using it I used to trip over all the advertising signs and bags of rubbish on the street. But I’m really not complaining about the accessibility of the city. Shops and office buildings are often much, much more accessible than their websites, which still need a lot of work in order to make them accessible to the blind.”

Smell, sound and touch

Blind people orient themselves differently in the city

Architects, town planners and local authorities have long given priority to the needs and wishes of the 'average' users of the city. But the way that blind people orient themselves in a city is different to how sighted people do it. Smells, sounds and touch are important.

Read more about the way that blind people perceive the city.

Guide lines provide safety

Rotterdam public transport adds lots of guiding lines

Guide lines give guidance to visually impaired people in metro stations. They use easy-to-feel ripples which contrast with the smooth surface of the rest of the floor. Currently, all 16 underground metro stations in Rotterdam are being fitted with guide lines, warning markers and yellow acoustic tiles. The 34 above-ground stations will be next. The arrival of the new public transport chip card makes the guide lines necessary, because otherwise visually impaired people will be unable to find the check-in and check-out points.

Source : De Technologiekrant (The Technology Paper)

British Braille makeover

What would the city look like if Braille was the standard?

In 2009, in honour of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Louis Braille, inventor of the ‘blind alphabet’, the Royal National Institute of Blind People organised a photographic makeover of some famous London icons. The aim was to raise awareness of blind city-dwellers and to show how different certain places would look if Braille was used in place of words.

Source: RNIB