Lord Mayor takes blindfold walk for World Blindness Awareness
30 Oct 2017
Earlier today, the Lord Mayor of Belfast walked in the shoes of a person with sight loss.
As World Blindness Awareness month draws to a close, Councillor Nuala McAllister welcomed representatives from Guide Dogs NI to City Hall.
With support from Guide Dog Mobility Instructor Jacqueline Dowey, Ms McAllister donned a blindfold and took the handle of the harness worn by guide-dog-in-training Buff. Together they walked a route around City Hall, negotiating obstacles and dealing with the busy city centre environment.
There are approximately 30,000 people living with a visual impairment in Northern Ireland, including almost 7,000 in the Belfast area alone . This number is forecast to increase dramatically, driven by an aging population and an associated increase in conditions such as macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy as a result of inactivity and diet.
Guide Dogs’ mission is to ensure that people with sight loss can live the lives they choose. That includes providing life-changing guide dogs and long cane and mobility training. The charity also trains volunteers to act as ‘sighted guides’ and campaigns for better access to public places for people with visual impairments.
The benefits of getting out and about include better physical health and mobility. Having freedom of movement and feeling included in society also boosts mental wellbeing, increasing the person’s confidence and reducing isolation.
Lord Mayor Nualla McAllister said: “I was delighted to welcome Guide Dogs representatives, and gorgeous golden retriever Ben, to City Hall today. I didn’t know what to expect from the blindfold walk but the experience really made me think about the challenges faced every day by people with sight loss – from uneven pavements to inappropriately parked cars.
“It’s important to me that Belfast is accessible to everyone and I look forward to working closely with the sight loss sector to ensure our streets are safe and welcoming for everyone.”
Andrew Murdock from Guide Dogs NI added: “Every day, people without a visual impairment take walking down the street for granted. But, as the Lord Mayor experienced, when you lose your sight every step can be fraught with fear and danger – from avoiding pavement cafes and advertising boards to knowing when it is safe to cross the road.
“Raising awareness of these challenges, and working with government to address them, is a key part of Guide Dogs NI’s work. Our goal is to ensure that people living with sight loss have the same freedom of movement as everyone else.”
For more information on the work of Guide Dogs, and to find out how you can support the charity, please visit www.guidedogs.org.uk/northernireland