The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association (Guide Dogs) is actively involved in the shared space campaign to promote solutions. It works through a partnership approach with other national and regional NGOs and community groups all actively involved.
The shared space concept, often delivered by means of a shared surface street design, aims to create attractive shared 'social' areas and to reduce the dominance of vehicles to make streets more 'people-friendly'. In shared surface streets, design of the road and its surroundings are altered to cause changes in the behaviour of drivers, encouraging them to be extra cautious as they negotiate the new road layout.
Research shows that vulnerable groups are more at risk in those towns and cities where a shared surface street design has been introduced. Pedestrians, motorists and cyclists need to make eye contact to establish who has priority. However, this puts blind and partially sighted people at a serious disadvantage. Blind and partially sighted people, particularly guide dog owners and long cane users, are trained to use the kerb as a key navigation cue in the street environment. Its removal, without a proven effective, alternative feature, exposes blind and partially sighted people to greater risk, undermines their confidence and so creates a barrier to their independent mobility.
Guide Dogs commitment to the European Road Safety Charter focuses on dialogue and information for the community to undertake road safety actions by:
- Disseminating research regarding shared space objectives, findings and proposals for safer streets, particularly focusing on infrastructure, and those risks specifically posed to blind, partially sighted and disabled pedestrians through the design layout of town centres; and
- Using a range of tools to highlight the issues, including: letters and a 'campaign in box' for relevant groups; face-to-face meetings; receptions; and dialogue at political conferences at the national, local and European level.
The process has been planned through a partnership approach with 20 other organisations, committed to a joint statement, with a Board governing the decisions being taken and with a campaign team, delivering and making activity happen on the ground.