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Norfolk Mayor given a glimpse into life without sight

PUBLISHED: 17:56 13 March 2018 | UPDATED: 09:39 14 March 2018

Dereham Mayor Hilary Bushell preparing for a blind folded walk around the town. Picture: Ian Burt

Dereham Mayor Hilary Bushell preparing for a blind folded walk around the town. Picture: Ian Burt

Archant 2018

The mayor of a Norfolk market town has navigated the streets blindfolded to get a glimpse into what life is like living with a visual impairment.

Dereham Mayor Hilary Bushell was blind folded and walked through the streets of Dereham by Guide Dogs county engagement worker Helen Sismore. Picture: Ian BurtDereham Mayor Hilary Bushell was blind folded and walked through the streets of Dereham by Guide Dogs county engagement worker Helen Sismore. Picture: Ian Burt

Mayor Hilary Bushell strapped on the blindfold in Dereham’s Market Place on Tuesday morning and made her way round the town centre supported by the charity Guide Dogs for the Blind.

For half an hour she walked the streets holding onto the arm of charity representative Helen Sismore, and once she had built up some confidence, she was handed a white stick and attempted to make her way round around the town independently.

“One thing that really surprised me was to learn that when you lose your sight, you also lose 80pc of your senses,” Mrs Bushell said.

“It was absolutely eye-opening - if that term can be used - I can’t believe the difference it makes.

Guide dogs joined the blindfolded walkabout in Dereham Market Place. Picture: Ian BurtGuide dogs joined the blindfolded walkabout in Dereham Market Place. Picture: Ian Burt

“I haven’t got best eyesight but at least I can see - how people with serious visual impairments cope I do not know.

“This has highlighted a lot of problems in the town, A-boards for example are a nightmare because very few of them are where they should be, which is 1.3 metres from the building.

“They are scattered everywhere and when using the white stick I realised how hard it is to get around them as you can only notice parts of it and you don’t know whether you are near the front or back.

“They are also all different heights so you really don’t know how to get around them.”

Dereham Mayor Hilary Bushell was blind folded and walked through the streets of Dereham by Guide Dogs county engagement worker Helen Sismore. Picture: Ian BurtDereham Mayor Hilary Bushell was blind folded and walked through the streets of Dereham by Guide Dogs county engagement worker Helen Sismore. Picture: Ian Burt

Mrs Bushell said that she was joined on the walk by a wheelchair user also who pointed out many of the challenges they face each day.

“It was an ideal opportunity to highlights these problems,” she continued. “This was not to criticise Dereham but to help it improve and give people a better experience in the town.

“We will be making changes. They can’t be done overnight but things are going to be happening.”

The mayor added that she appreciated having students from Northgate High School walking alongside her, highlighting that by giving them a greater awareness of the problems will encourage them to “look out for everybody.”

The Guide Dogs for the Blind was founded in 1931 and since then, they have supported more than 29,000 people across the country. Their services aim to give people who are blind or partially sighted greater independence.

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