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Risks for blind pedestrians on rise

AS MANY as one in 12 Victorians who are blind or vision-impaired say they have been hit by a vehicle or bicycle while walking in the past five years, a survey has found.

One in five reported having narrowly missed being hit, in a major study that sheds new light on the dangers blind and low-vision people face while getting around on foot.

The study, by Vision Australia and Monash University accident research centre, is the largest of its type conducted in Australia, having surveyed 607 blind and vision-impaired people about their experiences as pedestrians.

As well as the physical impacts, it also reveals the long-term psychological consequences for people involved in collisions and near misses, many of whom reported lost confidence and changed behaviour while walking and crossing roads.

Vision Australia spokeswoman Maryanne Diamond, who is blind, said the study had implications for an ageing society such as Australia's, where people would want to maintain a high level of independence.

''I imagine anyone who gets hit by a car has their confidence shattered, but as a blind person you have no option but to be a pedestrian,'' said Ms Diamond. ''Once your confidence gets shattered in one area it doesn't take much to shatter it in other things that you do.''


Just under a third of those who had been hit or in a near miss said the incident had involved a vehicle, while 25 per cent reported tangling with a cyclist.

Despite these results, respondents expressed significantly less confidence about sharing walking spaces with cyclists than they did crossing roads that were well signalised.

Study leader Dr Jennie Oxley, of the accident research centre, said this was because of difficulties in hearing cyclists. She said many of those surveyed also expressed concerns about the prospect of a future with more electric vehicles on the road, for the same reason.

''There's going to be more electric vehicles around and if pedestrians are relying on their sense of hearing it's going to put them at increased risk,'' Dr Oxley said.

Ms Diamond said the survey results were a reminder to drivers and cyclists to be mindful of who has right of way, because blind and low-vision pedestrians depended on others to do the right thing.

Survey participant Irene Sumbera was hit two years ago by a car that did not stop for her. The collision happened while she and her guide dog Jasper were crossing a busy intersection in Kensington, having waited for an audible signal to tell them it was OK to walk. She suffered a shattered tibia and lasting psychological injuries. ''As a group, I think we are exposed to greater risks,'' Ms Sumbera said.


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