Simple walk a minefield for city's blind

Constantly changing routes befuddle

ANNA TURNER
Last updated 05:00 27/03/2013
Lynne Smith and her guide dog Vegas
DEAN KOZANIC/Fairfax NZ
LEAP OF FAITH: Lynne Smith and her guide dog Vegas are having difficulty negotiating Christchurch’s damaged streets.

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Christchurch's blind community are struggling to navigate the city's damaged footpaths, with roadworks and construction blocking their paths on a daily basis.

Some vision-impaired people are becoming isolated as they stay inside rather than try to manoeuvre the ever-changing landscape.

Shirley resident Lynne Smith, 56, said she and her guide dog Vegas, 2, had difficulties almost every time they left the house.

"The routes are changing constantly and there's a lot of hazards. The environment is changing out there and it's hard to keep up with what's happening."

Canterbury guide dog mobility instructor Mimi Hooper said blind people were having trouble because their usual routes were disrupted by earthquake repairs.

"It's really hard when one day you're walking along a route and then the next day it's completely changed. The pavement may have ripped up on the road they've walked along for years.

"Sometimes they'll call out a member of staff to train them on a new route and within a day it's changed again. Some are not bothering to call and get the staff out because they know it will change almost immediately."

Roadworks, road-cones, dead-ends, changes to buses and construction noise were all a daily battle for blind people and their guide dogs.

A simple walk to the shops for Smith and Vegas can mean side-stepping rubble, walking through a series of cones, and avoiding potholes in the broken footpaths.

"There has to be a lot of trust between us. Sometimes she can be leading me off the path and I have no idea why. I just have to go with it," Smith said.

Hooper said while the dogs were well-trained for obstacles, they were just dogs.

"They can't always work out the pattern of the cones or read signs saying ‘Use other side of road'."

Hooper said she was having to change the way she trained people and their dogs to adjust.

Many people, particularly those who were elderly or immobile, were staying at home rather than attempting to circumvent the challenging roads.

"They are having the carers come to them because they're not confident with their routes and they can't enjoy walking as much," Hooper said.

She said the council were "doing their best" to keep them informed of changes to the roadworks.

"The workers at the roadworks are actually really good in helping people, too, but they can't look out all day for visually impaired people."

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There are 24 guide dogs in Christchurch and 240 in New Zealand. The Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind is holding its Red Puppy appeal on April 5 and 6. To volunteer as a street appeal collector or to donate, visit www.redpuppy.org.nz

- The Press

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