Guide Dogs NI and NIE take the lead in new streetworks initiative

Neil Mees from Antrim with Ruadhrai OKane and Ballymena man John Burrows from NIE Networks with Vicky Kyle, Ivy the dog and Ursula McCanny from Guide Dogs NI at the launch of the training initiative.
Neil Mees from Antrim with Ruadhrai OKane and Ballymena man John Burrows from NIE Networks with Vicky Kyle, Ivy the dog and Ursula McCanny from Guide Dogs NI at the launch of the training initiative.

Navigating busy urban streets can be difficult for people with sight loss, and when there are streetworks on your daily route, ‘difficult’ can quickly turn to ‘dangerous’.

Guide Dogs NI has teamed up with Northern Ireland Electricity Networks (NIE Networks) to provide awareness training for its staff and contractors, using on-street scenarios to replicate the day to day difficulties faced by people who are blind or partially sighted.

This training is part of Guide Dogs NI ‘Streets Ahead’ campaign, which is raising awareness of the impact of cars parking on the pavement, street clutter such as freestanding advertisements, and ensuring that our town and city centres are a safe place for those living with sight loss.

Ruadhrai O’Kane, Contracts Manager at NIE Networks, says utilities need to do everything they can to ensure the public remain safe on the streets.

He said: “Public realm schemes, streetworks and utility projects can all disrupt pedestrian access to our streets and footpaths, making it difficult for someone with a visual impairment to safely navigate through the streets. At NIE Networks, we put the safety of the general public at the forefront of all our projects.

“We are keen to continue to work with Guide Dogs NI to ensure all our project staff and contractors are aware of the dangers and build safe solutions for people who are blind or partially sighted into every streetworks project.”

The group heard directly about the impact that streetworks have had on guide dog owner Vicky Kyle, whose experience with a site in Larne highlighted the need for better education for contractors.

NIE Networks and their contractors were also given specialised training and practical advice on how to make the street environment safe for all pedestrians during streetworks. The day culminated in participants getting first-hand experience of the challenges people like Vicky face, as they were asked to negotiate a mocked up streetworks site under blindfold with the assistance of a guide dog or long cane.

Ursula McCanny from Guide Dogs NI said: “Losing your sight shouldn’t mean losing your independence, confidence and freedom too. At Guide Dogs NI, we’re working hard to provide support that makes the challenges of sight loss no barrier to fulfilling your needs and dreams. We’re delighted to be working with NIE Networks to help create a safer pedestrian environment for everyone by removing some of these barriers.”

Ruadhrai O’Kane added: “This training really showed how simple changes to the streets can have a huge impact”