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‘It’s a nightmare’: Life for Havering’s blind and partially sighted worsening, paralympian warns

PUBLISHED: 07:00 21 February 2019

Mike Brace with guide dog Izzy

Mike Brace with guide dog Izzy

Archant

A former paralympian has described the borough’s streets as a nightmare for the blind and partially sighted.

Mike Brace, of Elm Farm Road, Hornchurch described litter on Havering’s streets, pavements cluttered with street furniture, untrimmed hedges and cars blocking public footpaths as hazardous for the visually impaired.

“It’s a nightmare. The environment in Havering has deteriorated in the last 10 to 15 years.

“I didn’t realise how dirty the streets were before I got a guide dog. Whenever there’s food dropped on the floor, she’s after it,” the 68-year-old said.

Travelling on the underground could also be difficult at stations including Elm Park, Upminster Bridge and Hornchurch where staff aren’t always easily available, he added.

Director of customer service, Brian Woodhead, said London Underground wanted visually impaired people to feel confident travelling around London.

Station employees do disability equality training and anyone needing help could speak to staff in the ticket hall or on platforms at busier times, he added.

New vests helping customers with a visual impairment identify staff more easily were introduced on Sunday with tactile paving on platforms and around stairs also being rolled out.

“We are always trying to improve the service we provide, which is why we are working closely with disability charities to help improve our network,” Mr Woodhead said.

Mr Brace, a cross-country skier at the first winter paralympic games in 1976 and now chairman of the charity Sight Action Havering said: “Part of the problem we’ve found is that we are pretty isolated.

“Havering is not the best borough for facilities to help people with sight loss even though we have probably the oldest population in London.

“It’s likely we have more people with sight loss compared to other boroughs, but we have one of the lowest provisions in London,” he commented.

The borough has one sight loss officer responsible for working out what help people might need.

In December the council marked International Day of the Disabled and recently launched its One Havering plan which pledged that everyone in the borough deserved the same quality of life.

Havering Council leader, Cllr Damian White, said: “The council is committed to helping residents with disabilities.”

He added that budget proposals echoed this commitment with more than £10million a year spent improving roads and pavements from a £40m pot covering four years.

Street cleaning would increase to once a fortnight, he said.

“The council is working to de-clutter our streets to make them friendlier for people with disabilities.

“Our budget and vision acts on the issues that matter to our community the most. It will see major improvements in roads, pavements and street cleaning while continuing to invest in services for more vulnerable people,” Cllr White said.

A council spokesman added the authority was to put in place recommendations from a Havering Healthwatch report published last June.

Cuts were partly to blame for the current state of the borough, but greater public awareness of the issues was also needed to improve things, Mr Brace said.

Sight Loss Action, reliant on fundraising and the proceeds from Mr Brace’s after-dinner speaking, stepped in to fill some of the gaps in provision along with the charity East London Vision.

There is currently a big difference in provision for London’s estimated 194,000 blind and partially sighted people, according to sight loss charity London Vision (LV).

LV’s Masuma Ali said getting support was like a lottery in London with support varying between boroughs.

This was evident at Queen’s Hospital, which unlike others doesn’t have a dedicated service for anyone undergoing sight loss.

A spokesman for Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust: “We recognise the huge value of having support for patients experiencing sight loss.

“We’re working with the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) to explore ways to provide a dedicated service that will provide support to people told they are losing their sight.”

Call London Vision on 020 3697 6464 or email info@londonvision.org

For visually impaired people who want to raise concerns about travel in Havering contact diversity@havering.gov.uk

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