Monday Musing: Another perspective on pavement parking

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Siobhan Meade, Guide Dogs engagement officer for Herts, Beds and Essex gives an insight into how pavement parking affects people who are blind.

No two days are the same. I get to engage directly with people from all communities and backgrounds; from our service users who are blind and visually impaired, to specialists in local business, politics, law, campaigning and communications. A large part of my job today involves dealing with access issues where guide dog users have been barred from transport or a place open to the public, but other days are spent engaging with politicians, planners, community workers, health workers, the police and people who may not know about sight loss but would like to.

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What do you like about your job?

 I feel I have the best job in the world as there isn’t a single week when I don’t finish knowing I have helped at least one person. It is a true privilege to help to make things better.

 How does your lovely guide dog Marty help you to do your job?

A guide dog brings freedom and independence to everyone who is lucky enough to be paired with one. Marty gives me the confidence to walk out of my front door and to live life. At work, he is always on hand to guide me wherever I need to go and he’s a brilliant canine ambassador for the charity.

How are you as a blind person and others who are visually impaired affected by pavement parking? It is something BPA have long campaigned government to tackle with both Guide Dogs and Living Streets.

 People don’t park on pavements because they are bad and wish to inconvenience people like me who are blind, or to stop wheelchair users passing safely, they park on streets because it feels easy and harmless, but the truth is it creates great difficulties and is harmful. I know some roads who have cars parked on both sides of the road and I avoid them like the plague. When a car is parked on the pavement, a guide dog is forced to find their way to the safest spot for the guide dog owner to problem solve a way round a barrier they cannot see. This off-curb obstruction as it is called, means the dog stands at the pavement and the guide dog owner and dog must step into oncoming traffic if they are to pass. There was a recent Facebook post in Yorkshire that showed how one guide dog owner was nearly hit by traffic in precisely this circumstance. The police assisted him to safety and he was not injured, but this is an everyday occurrence for our service users and for me.

 Is it true that if a pavement is obstructed by a car or something else, they are trained to return home? If so, why is this?

No, a guide dog owner and guide dog are a true partnership. The guide dog owner is trained to navigate with the assistance of a guide dog. While it will undoubtedly have been the case that at least one guide dog owner will have made the decision to head home because of a pavement that could not safely be navigated, the outcome will usually be that both the dog and visually impaired owner, will step out in to the road and in to on-coming traffic. This is the consequence of pavement parking that does not allow at least enough space for a wheelchair user to fit through. A simple blockage of the pavement can affect a person’s freedom, confidence and independence. A guide dog is trained on particular routes that are useful to their owner and someone who has recently lost their sight or has been diagnosed with a sight condition may not feel confident to ask for help, and it may be too costly for them to take a taxi. I am a confident and have lived with sight loss all my life but everyone’s sight loss journey is different.

What does Guide Dogs advise guide dog owners to do if there is a serious problem in their area with pavement and obstructive parking?

We encourage people to contact our local community teams and speak to engagement officers like me. People can also email pictures to campaigns@guidedogs.org.uk with the location so that our campaigns team can discuss hotspot problem areas with policy makers nationally while we discuss them with local authorities and our local MPs.

 Do you personally come across this problem and how do you handle it?

I come across this problem all the time, literally on most days. I have to navigate round these cars by stepping out in to on-coming traffic, just hoping that drivers will see me and that no slow-moving silent cars are in my vicinity. It’s truly scary. I want people to think before they park – ‘could someone fit through this space who is in a wheelchair or has a guide dog?’.

 What do you hope the government will do to prevent pavement parking?

Guide Dogs advocates the laws that prevent cars parking on pavements in London, without special permission in particular locations, should be rolled out to the rest of the country and that this be enforced robustly.

 Finally, with all the hot weather we are having how is Marty coping with the heat!

Hot weather is very difficult for dogs as they do not sweat in the same way as humans. Marty is a black dog which means he absorbs the heat. We take common sense precautions such as staying out of the midday heat, travelling with cold chilled water wherever we go and we we take regular breaks in air-conditioned buildings when we must be out, even for short periods of time.