MP walks ‘blind’ for guide dog charity

MP Cat Smith, left

MP Cat Smith, left

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A Fylde coast MP was given a taste of total blindness as she roamed the streets blindfolded with a guide dog to help her.

Cat Smith, MP for Fleetwood and Lancaster, took on the daunting challenge last week at the request of the Guide Dogs charity in order to gain a better understanding of the experiences of blind and partially-sighted constituents.

She said: “As an MP I represent blind constituents and not being blind myself I wanted to get that understanding that even things like pavement parking can pose a huge problem.

“Pavement parking is not illegal but for a blind person it means that their guide dog has to go out onto the road to go around it. The blind person could be led into busy traffic.

“It has made me aware of the day to day challenges that blind people face just going to the shops, going to work or getting to school.”

Ms Smith was guided by black labrador Forgan, the Guide Dogs charity’s North West Demonstration Dog during the exercise in Lancaster.

She said: “He was very patient with me and he could tell that I was being cautious. He was going very slowly.

“It just goes to show how much training needs to be done to make a proper guide dog.”

She added that her experience had inspired her to strengthen her campaign to stamp out pavement parking and have audio speakers installed on public transport to keep blind and partially sighted passengers aware of where they are.

She said: “The scariest part of the challenge was taking the bus. It has shown me how important it is that we put the ‘talking buses’ in place, with PA systems telling passengers which stops they’re at.

“I’m going to continue working with the Guide Dogs charity to see if we can get changes through so that all buses have to be ‘talking buses’, and also change pavement parking rules.

“It all depends on whether we can get the support of other MPs.”

Penny Williams, engagement officer at Guide Dogs charity, said: “I think it’s wonderful that MP Cat Smith has decided to support our campaigns to prevent pavement parking and to make all buses ‘talking buses’.

“MPs are the ones with the power to change things in the law and it’s fantastic that she has taken up this opportunity to find out more about the challenges visually impaired people face.

“We are really grateful for her support.”