There are 350,000 people on the registers of blind and partially sighted people in the UK, but it’s estimated that nearly two million (or one person in thirty) have a sight problem which seriously impacts their daily life.
Road safety is an issue for all of us, but it is a particular challenge for people who are blind or sight-impaired. And while almost every pedestrian crossing has some special technology that can help those who need it, not every sight-impaired person knows it’s there or how to use it.
AGD Systems is one of the main suppliers of pedestrian crossing signal equipment in the UK and, through its subsidiary Radix, is the largest manufacturer of ‘rotating cone’ technology that assists sight-impaired pedestrians at signalised crossings. The tactile indicator, when fitted to the familiar nearside crossing signals, allows a blind or sight-impaired person to hold a cone which protrudes from the signal. When it is safe to cross, the cone starts rotating as the green man appears.
Around 200,000 of these tactile cones are operating on the UK’s crossings and junctions, and AGD works closely with charities and local authorities to help ensure that users are made aware of this equipment and how to use it. AGD recently attended an event hosted by the East of England branch of the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) in Ipswich, where delegates learnt about this tactile solution and got the chance to try it for themselves.
AGD, which donated one of its crossing units to RNIB for future training and awareness sessions, also wanted to seek users’ opinions on a different style of cone that it believes will be particularly helpful in cold weather, when gloves will almost certainly be worn, and for sight-impaired people who can suffer from loss of sensitivity in their fingers. This option, known as ‘Cone B’, has a different spline shape and feel to the current ‘Cone A’ style, and makes more of an impression on the fingertips when it rotates.
Of the ten volunteers who participated in the comparison, only one had ever used rotating tactile cones at a crossing before, but all were impressed with the facility and most said it was easier to feel ‘Cone B’ through gloves than ‘Cone A’.
Bernie Reddington, RNIB Confidence Building Co-ordinator for the East of England, who delivered the course, said: “Frequently we come across people with significant sight loss who have never been told about the tactile cones, which are a very quick-win way of helping them stay safe while crossing the road. We were happy to help AGD in their research on how tactile cones can help people with diabetic neuropathy, which can impair the feeling in their fingertips, and of course anyone who might be trying to use it while wearing gloves in cold weather. We were very grateful for the donation of a working AGD pedestrian signal fitted with both types of cone, which will be really useful for our courses aimed at reducing the barriers to sight-impaired people getting out and about safely.”