Newcastle MP joins Guide Dogs for blindfolded bus journey

Newcastle North MP, Catherine McKinnell, took part in a blindfolded bus journey to Throckley today (20th June), followed by a blindfolded walk in Lemington.

Catherine was joined by Guide Dogs supporter and Dumpling Hall resident, Ellen Jopling, alongside Guide Dogs’ Mobility Instructor, David Waterfall, and North East Engagement Officer, Linda Oliver. They were all accompanied by Linda’s guide dog, Zoe.

Guide Dogs’ latest survey showed that bus passengers with sight loss are feeling isolated because buses don’t cater for their needs.  And, during her journey, Catherine experienced the significant difficulties faced by those with sight loss as she boarded the number 22 bus to Throckley – such as not knowing what the next stop is, or whether she had reached her destination outside Sainsbury’s.

After returning to Lemington on the bus, Catherine began her blindfolded walk along Tyne View to the local Post Office.  Throughout the walk she experienced the difficulties of negotiating street furniture, such as advertising boards, cars parked on pavements, and the importance of being able to hear traffic when crossing a busy road.

Guide Dogs is pressing for a change in the law to make audio and visual information – including audible announcements of the current stop, next stop and final destination – available on board bus and coach services across the UK, known as ‘Talking Buses’.

The charity is also campaigning to reduce street clutter, and for the installation of audible sound generators on all vehicles – particularly electric, hybrid and quiet combustion engine cars – as research has shown that such vehicles can only be heard less than a second before impact when travelling at certain speeds.

Catherine said:

‘I already knew some of the challenges facing blind and visually impaired people when getting out and about – but today’s blindfolded bus journey and walk really did hit home.

‘It’s hard to appreciate just how much we rely on our vision to get to where we want to go, and of course to stay safe when doing so.  I cannot begin to describe how challenging this afternoon’s journeys were – and I was fortunate to be accompanied by others.

‘We really must tackle the issues being raised by Guide Dogs if we are to enable people with disabilities to be truly independent.’

Linda Oliver (Guide Dogs) said:

‘Buses play a vital role in enabling disabled children and adults, including those who are blind or partially-sighted, to live more independent lives.  But the worry of not being sure if you have got on the right bus, where you are on your journey, or when your stop is coming up, puts many people off using them.’

‘It is really encouraging that Catherine has taken up the challenge and is prepared to support our Talking Buses campaign.’