Hartlepool Mail reporter finds out first-hand the dangers that blind people face on our streets

Blindfolded Hartlepool Mail reporter Mark Payne pictured with (left to right) Al Winton, John Brady and Rachel Manders.
Blindfolded Hartlepool Mail reporter Mark Payne pictured with (left to right) Al Winton, John Brady and Rachel Manders.

BLIND residents in Hartlepool are calling on police and council chiefs to try and make the town safer for them as they go about their everyday business. Mail reporter MARK PAYNE teamed up with members of a local guide dogs association to learn more about their concerns.

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WALKING around Hartlepool in total darkness is a nervy experience.

I was invited by the Tees Valley branch of Guide Dogs for the Blind to step into the shoes of a blind person for a short time.

It comes as blind people in Hartlepool are lobbying police and council chiefs about an increasing number of obstacles they are having to contend with across town.

Cars parked on pavements, uneven paving, skips, overhanging branches, and shop advertising boards are just some of the hazards they risk bumping into on a daily basis.

I met Al Winton, branch secretary of Tees Valley Guide Dogs for the Blind outside Hartlepool Blind Welfare Association in Avenue Road for my blind walk yesterday.

We were joined by guide dog mobility instructor Rachel Manders and lovable Labrador Yaron who would be my guide for the experience.

Rachel said: “When you walk along as a sighted person you really don’t think about all the things blind people have to cope with.”

A quick glance around shows what she is talking about. Even though Avenue Road is wider than average streets there is a shop advertising board, lamppost and metal sign post within a few feet of us.

Al, 69, of the Seaton Lane area, who relies on his dog Gypsy to get around, said: “For me this has been an ongoing problem for the last five years and I have been discussing it with the police and the local authority.

“Cars parked on pavements are horrendous. Other problems are overhanging branches and people working in the street.

“If they have ladders the dog doesn’t know whether to go under or around them.”

Before we set off Al gives me one golden piece of advice.

“Put your faith in the dog,” he said.

Then I don the blindfold, take up Yaron’s handle and set off with Rachel to help keep us on course.

I feel immediately disorientated as my world is plunged into darkness.

Despite Yaron leading the way I naturally feel wary that I might bump into something or someone and I almost trip over my own feet after just a few tentative steps.

It is not long before I only have a vague idea of where I am on Avenue Road as we cross Erroll Street and turn up Lowthian Road.

As we turn into Wharton Street I feel relieved to take the blindfold off.

Although I only walked a few hundred yards without sight I now have some small idea of what it is like to lose a vital sense.