I have lived in Hebden Bridge for a long time and so I have seen the town change considerably and develop. Over the last few years however, I have lost most of my sight, becoming registered partially sighted in 2010, and registered blind in 2013.
A better name for that is severely sight impaired, as like many ‘blind’ people I have a small amount of vision – in my case, fuzzy central vision (like a small circle) in one eye. Sight loss varies though: some people can see clearly but only peripherally; some people have vision which moves, others only see light and dark, some few have no sight whatsoever.
But of course, I can see very little compared to normal sight! I walk very tentatively now, head down, with a long white stick, using it to check for kerbs, steps or obstacles. Signs over shops and labels are impossible to read (unless I am extremely close and they are very clear).
Hebden Bridge is a good place to shop! Assistants in shops are invariably happy to find things for me if I ask. If they have noticed my white stick they may ask unprompted if they can help. Even in busier shops, when I have plucked up the courage to ask for help, I have had nothing but kindness.
This helpfulness is also true of stallholders in the open market. They pass me things carefully, and make sure I have my change in my hand. Normally, in a café or restaurant I am with someone but if on my own they will helpfully tell me what’s on the menus and so on. I think the key is to say to assistants what you can’t see, because there are so many different levels of sight loss.
Navigating the streets is not too difficult as normally the pavements are not too busy. There are pedestrian crossings for the main road, with the sound beeps and the rotating cones underneath the box, helpful if you cannot distinguish the red/green man.
The two Zebra crossings on Market Street are very helpful, as is the pedestrian crossing with traffic lights just out of Station Road. There are some bollards on pedestrianised St George Square, and other street furniture on pedestrianised Bridgegate, but I know they are there and to be careful.
As spaces, these pedestrianised areas are definitely easier to navigate and feel very nice; if it’s busy with people, I simply walk slower.
The park has a good (well-surfaced) path to walk through to get to the centre of HB from the Railway Station. Also, this usefully avoids crossing at the end of Commercial Street (aka Keighley Road), where cars can turn in off the main road rather fast. However, I do cross this way frequently as walking along Commercial Street is my usual way into town.
Other very useful resources I find as a visually impaired person in Hebden Bridge are: the cinema, the Town Hall and the Tourist Information Office on the Marina. The cinema (Hebden Bridge Picture House) has brilliant white lines for visibility on the grand steps up to its main entrance (there is a side accessible entrance for wheelchairs) and has many films with audio description.
The Town Hall hosts many events and is very accessible, and the Tourist Information Centre supply leaflets and information and are very helpful. And there are other places… Altogether, central Hebden Bridge is a good place to walk round, explore and shop in as a visually impaired person. Its friendliness is key.
Words by Kathleen Tansey