Thursday 18 July 2019

Keep looking out for what lies in the way of the visually impaired

Balbriggan Beat

A unique collaboration between the local branch of Irish Guide Dogs and a talented Fingal photographer has resulted in a photographic exhibition at Balbriggan Library aimed at shedding some light on the difficulties visually impaired people have in getting around our towns and cities.

The work revolves around the everyday urban experience of people who are blind or visually impaired all seen through the lens of photographer, Margaret Fay.

Margaret explained: 'There are around 220,000 blind and visually impaired people living in Ireland today.

'Through a process of working collaboratively with Tom O'Neill Chairman of the local Guide Dogs and David from NCBI we navigate the streets of Balbriggan and Stillorgan with all the obstacles that fully sighted people see and avoid effortlessly.

'Using the visual medium of photography I have tried to portray to fully sighted people the everyday obstacles encountered by the blind and visually impaired living in the community.

'The obstacles put in their way are usually put there by fully sighted members of the community.

'This exhibition is designed to enlighten those of us who are blessed with the gift of sight about the difficulties encounter by our brothers and sisters who have the right to use our streets on a daily basis safely in the same way fully sighted people do.'

The photographer explained: 'Through viewing this exhibition I hope to leave an image with you which will increase your awareness and to stop and think before placing obstacles, including parking cars, on the footpath and other areas where people who are not gifted with sight have to navigate every day.'

Tom O'Neill, who uses a guide dog himself, collaborated on the project and explained: 'It is people like myself that bad footpaths and crossings have a real impact on.He added: 'Every day of the year people are out and about walking on footpaths and will be more and more as the weather improves and the long summer days appears.

'Amongst some of those people will be people who have reduced vision due to different eye conditions and unfortunately as we all get older our eyesight is not what it used to be.

'In that group there will be people using guide dogs and white canes to assist them in their mobility to get around safely.'

Back in 2017, Tom took a local councillor around the streets of Balbriggan to show him some of the difficulties experienced by the visually impaired in getting around the town.

He said: 'The idea behind the walkabout was to see where improvements could be done by

Fingal County Council to crossings that may not have been finished off in previous works or where no effort at all was made to have a safe crossing. Margaret Fay joined them on that walkabout and the seeds of this project were sewn.

Tom said some excellent work has been done to improve the area around Balbriggan Library but other parts of the town are sadly lacking in accessibility.

Fingal Independent