Over 100 staff participated in the Sight Specific training organised by Andy Woolston, Operations Manager in South West Water’s Delivery Alliance H5O, in partnership with the WESC Foundation - The Specialist Centre for Visual Impairment, based in Exeter.
The aim was to educate and inform managers, supervisors and site staff who set up or supervise street works on behalf of the water company in the region about the needs of the blind and visually impaired.
During the sessions, held at the Newcourt Community Centre in Exeter on 1 October, participants analysed the use of barriers, ramps, footpath diversion routes and warning signs from the perspective of people with visual impairments. They also learned about the different types of canes used by visually impaired people and were encouraged to try on ‘simulation spectacles’ illustrating different types of vision loss.
Alison Heath and Jane Beveridge, Mobility Specialists from WESC Foundation, gave advice on how to approach a visually impaired or blind person to offer help and tips on correct guiding techniques. They also showed a video featuring two local people with no vision explaining the challenges that street works present to visually impaired people whilst travelling independently in the local community.
Finally, participants were encouraged to practise their new guiding techniques on colleagues wearing sleep shades attempting to negotiate a number of obstacles commonly found at street works.
Andy said: “I recently attended a Highways Authorities and Utilities Committee (HAUC) conference in Taunton, where the RNIB gave a presentation, but it was very high level and didn’t go into the day-to-day nitty gritty of what our guys do on site.
“I felt we needed to do something with our street works site teams so I approached WESC to ask if they would like to get involved and they were really keen to raise awareness. There are so many things I learned from them that you wouldn’t even consider – simple stuff like telling someone with a visual impairment whether steps go up or down.
“The main benefit is making it easier for everyone who is blind or visually impaired to negotiate our sites and educating our people to take into consideration the needs of people who are visually impaired or blind while setting up sites.”
Representatives from South West Water, Balfour Beatty, Interserve, Pell Frischmann, Arcadis (Hyder), Glanville Environmental, R&M Utilities, Kier, Nomenca, Tecker, Bridges Electrical, Aecom and traffic management companies Sun Traffic and Amberon were among those attending the training.
Mark Brown, a Balfour Beatty General Foreman, said: “It was a very good course. It made me more aware of the needs of blind people. It was very informative, for example I didn’t know about the different canes, and it gave us an opportunity to experience some of the difficulties faced by visually impaired people.”
Lin Melluish, Streetworks Manager for South West Water, said: “It was very thought provoking, especially when we put on sleep shades to experience what it’s like to be visually impaired. I only had that shade on for 10 to 12 minutes but within two minutes I was completely disorientated.
“This type of training really brings home how challenging negotiating street works can be for blind and visually impaired people and how we can minimise that impact.”
Andy has been asked to run a similar training exercise for Thames Water.
Richard Ellis, Head of VI Services at WESC Foundation, said: “We are really pleased this training has been so well received. Generally people are very prepared to do what they can to support visually impaired people, if they know what practical things they can do. This sort of training provides practical experiences which raise awareness of the difficulties experienced by blind and visually impaired pedestrians.”
Graham Murphy, South West Water’s Engineering and Supply Chain Director, said: “We are constantly assessing the interaction between pedestrians and our street works in order to minimise the impact and to eliminate any health and safety risks.”
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