Sight loss: out and about
Living with sight loss doesn’t mean you have to give up a hobby or leisure pursuit you enjoy. And you can always find new activities to broaden your horizons or get the most out of hobbies you already love.
As we know all too well, travelling with a disability often requires careful and creative problem solving. Lack of accessibility, amenities and understanding are just some of the barriers we face as disabled travellers and companions. Still, you are more than entitled to get the most out of your travel experience, and the GOV.UK site can provide you with an overview of Transport if you're disabled.
This guide has been designed to provide clear direction for before, after and during travel to ensure a trouble-free trip. Knowing what to expect makes life a lot easier and less stressful. So without further ado, let’s get the accessible basics covered.
As disability facilities and services vary widely, it is worth doing some research before you decide which airline to use. Here are a few pointers to bear in mind when travelling by air.
On booking your flight, remember to notify the airline that you require assistance; at least 48 hours before your flight departs, make sure you contact the airline and remind them once again. Finally, at flight check in, be sure to tell the ticket agent that you requested special assistance. In doing this you will receive extra help at security, miss long queues (there have to be some perks!) and will receive assistance at the gate. Once at the entrance of the plane, you will be met with flight attendants who will help you.
You do have a right to travel with your assistance dog, but you’ll need to follow the rules found on the GOV.UK website, Pet travel: entering and returning to the UK.
Travelling by train
National Rail has worked long and hard over the last few years to improve accessibility. Rail travel is now one of the most accessible means of transport for those with a disability. With the right information, planning and know-how, travelling by train can be hassle free. Let’s get on board!
To start off, it is useful to identify the barriers that might affect your journey and then consider the different options available and next steps. If you have a sight impairment, it is recommended that you book passenger assistance. Please note this booking should be made at least 24 hours prior to your journey. Whether it is help getting on and off the train, buying tickets or getting guidance through the station, passenger assistance will have it covered.
To book passenger assistance with the relevant train company you are travelling with, simply navigate to the “Support and Information” section on the company’s contact page. Once there, scroll down to "Assisted Travel" to retrieve the relevant contact details. Once on the phone to them, be sure to outline your requirements clearly so they can tailor their services to your needs accordingly.
If you would rather contact them via the web, you can book online via the Disabled Persons Railcard website; look for the "Book Assistance for Future Journey" button on the page.
Alternatively, you can call National Rail Enquiries on 0345 748 4950.
If you are unsure which train company you need, take a look at the National Rail’s list of Stations services and facilities. These pages will show you details of facilities available at each station under the "Access Information" section of the chart on that page.
Travelling by bus
The bus business is experiencing a boom these days, perhaps due to attractive fares and schedules. In terms of relaying information, buses have become more user-friendly. And come 2017, all public transport buses will have to meet specific disability standards set by the government. As we wait patiently for this day, we will have to make do with the current provisions.
As a disabled person, you may be eligible for a free bus pass—check with your local council to find out. At the very least, you are entitled to a free off-peak pass on any bus, which allows you to travel anywhere in England between 9.30 am and 11 pm Monday to Friday and anytime at weekends. For further details on this scheme, visit the GOV.UK site and go to the section on Transport if you're disabled, where you'll find details on cars, buses and coaches.
How do I apply for a bus pass? Simply contact your local council to find out who issues disabled bus passes. To apply for a disabled person's bus pass, you first need to identify the appropriate local authority. Go to the Directgov site and follow the steps on how to apply for a disabled person's bus pass. This service is only available in England.
Getting on and off. Bus companies are legally obliged to make sure disabled people can get on and off buses in safety and travel in reasonable comfort. Visit Citizens Advice to find out the Rights of disabled passengers using buses and coaches.
Using public transport in London
There are many resources to help you tame the Tube and beat the buses when travelling in London.
Transport for London
In addition to all of the traditional services offered through the Transport for London (TfL) website, there is an entire section devoted to transport accessibility. For instance, did you know you could request staff assistance at all Tube, TfL Rail, Overground stations, boats, the Emirates Air Line and Victoria Coach Stations? You can get assistance from drivers on trams and buses (on DLR trains, look for a Passenger Service Agent).
TfL also offers a travel support card that you can download and use in order to let people know what assistance you may need. And for information on fares, visit the 60+ London Oyster Card section of the TfL website.
Transport for All
Transport for All (TfA) is an organisation that is working to make it just as easy for you to travel on public transport as it is for anyone else. Formerly Dial-A-Ride and Taxicard users (DaRT), TfA is a great place to find how public transport is becoming more accessible to everyone, and it covers:
- The Emirate Airline (Cable Car)
TfA also has information on getting travel training or mentoring and tracking down items that have been lost on London's transport system.
In terms of door to door services, TfA can help you research the following:
- Capital Call
- Community transport
- Patient transport
- Taxi and Private Hire Vehicle
The organisation can also help you explore the following concessionary services:
- Blue Badge
- Freedom Pass
- Disabled and Older Persons Railcard
- National Express Coachcard
- 60+ Oystercard
To find out specifically about Freedom Passes, visit the London Councils Freedom Pass website.
Entertainment and cultural activities
If you enjoy going to the theatre or concerts, lots of venues offer special seating for disabled people. In fact, many theatres even offer Audio Description (AD) services for visually impaired people. Read about Going out to the theatre to find out more about the range of offerings throughout the country.
AD may also be available at museums and galleries; simply check with the museum before planning your visit.
Sports and leisure
You may be surprised by just how many sporting and leisure activities are available for visually impaired people. From cricket to football to rock climbing, you're sure to find an activity that suits you.
British Blind Sport
British Blind Sport is a national charity providing a wide range of sporting opportunities for visually impaired people. Check out the British Blind Sport website to find out what's on offer.
Blind Cricket England & Wales (BCEW) provides opportunities for visually impaired people to enjoy cricket. If you want to play for fun, participate in an amateur team or play professionally, BCEW has something for you. To find out more about playing cricket with the BCEW, please visit the Blind Cricket England & Wales website.
Blind or visually impaired tennis, also known as sound ball tennis, is offered by The Tennis Foundation, which is part of the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA). To find out how you can participate, please visit the Visually Impaired Tennis section of the LTA website.
England & Wales Blind Golf is a charity dedicated to providing people who are registered blind with the opportunity to learn and play golf. To find out more about how you can participate, check out the England & Wales Blind Golf website.
In Scotland, the Scottish Blind Golf Society provide opportunities for visually impaired people to learn and play golf. To find out more about blind golf in Scotland, please visit the Scottish Blind Golf Society website.
Off-road driving experiences for visually impaired people
There are lots of places around the UK that offer driving experiences for visually impaired people. Just enter the phrase "off road driving for visually impaired people" into Google or your favourite search engine and find a provider that suits you.
Blind Sailing is a UK Charity that helps visually impaired people sail at all levels, providing training, events and coaching. To find out more about what's on offer, please visit the Blind Sailing website.
There are many shooting clubs in the UK offering shooting opportunities for visually impaired people. Check out the Disabled Shooting Project website to find out about blind shooting in your area.
Skiing and snowboarding for visually impaired people
Most skiing and snowboarding clubs and centres have facilities for disabled people. There are also many organisations that provide skiing holidays for visually impaired people. To find out more about snow sports for disabled people, please visit the Disability Snowsports UK website.
Joining a gym, leisure centre or fitness club
Gyms, leisure centres and fitness clubs may not offer classes or facilities specifically designed for visually impaired people, but that doesn't mean you can't participate. These centres cannot discriminate against you because you are visually impaired, but they also must ensure the safety of all of their customers, so provision for visually impaired people will differ from centre to centre.
Some people prefer to pair up with a sighted fitness buddy. Others prefer to work out on their own. Be open minded and don't be afraid to ask for help if you need it.
If you want to join a gym, leisure centre or fitness club, it is advisable to get in contact with them and find out whether or not their facilities will meet your needs.
Wining and dining
As food is at the centre of Jewish life, it's good to know that having a visual impairment should not stop you from meeting up with friends and family for a drink or a bit of a nosh. The adaptations that bars, cafes and restaurants can offer may vary greatly. Some have large print or braille menus, whilst others will be happy to sing the entire menu to you and everything in between. Some places are well lit, whilst others go for minimal romantic lighting.
If you're relaxed and willing to go with the flow, then most restaurants will do their best to accommodate you. However, if you want something specific, such as bright lighting, well spaced tables or a large print menu, then it's best to contact the restaurant in advance to find out how they will accommodate you.