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Word on the Street

Word on the Street

It's not often that something happens that far exceeds my wildest hopes (I have very wild hopes!) ... but this week something did!

I went to Swansea University to have a wander around the campus to get a rough idea of what has changed since I studied chemistry there in 1991-94. In all honesty little had — buildings had new names and there was a Starbucks in the James Callaghan building and a Costa in the library, but the buildings were all in the same places as they were 25 years ago.

My apprehension about going back to uni next year to study MA in creative writing lies in whether I'll be able to get from whichever hall of residence I'm in, to the Kier Hardie building where the creative writing lectures and workshops are held. The recent walks to the bus stop I've been posting about are stage 1 in getting me back to a level of mobility that I may be able to navigate the university campus on my own. If you've not seen it on my Facebook page, I used my phone to video a solo walk to the bus stop and back in the village I live in. You can watch it on YouTube and get a unique experience of what a blind person hears as he walks down a street.

In the Beginning Was the Word

And the Word Was Path

If you asked me what would be top of my list to help me at university, well it'd be a Star Trek transporter that would beam me from my room to anywhere I need to go ... this is unlikely to be available in the next 12 months.

Heisenberg compensators remove uncertainty from the subatomic measurements, making transporter travel feasible.
(Wiki page on the Star Trek transporter)

... a note of caution: Heisenberg compensators can't keep a drunk student walking in a straight line, blind or not!

But what Swansea have done since I was there is a tactile footpath! We noticed it as we went to the James Callaghan building for a Starbucks coffee and Welsh cakes. There was a tactile pavement leading up to the entrance. You may have noticed tactile paving when you come to zebra and pelican crossings approaching a road. As a blind person and a former transportation planner, tactile crossings are my wet dream.

The blister surface takes account of the needs of the widest range of disabled people, including the many visually impaired people who have lost their sight as a result of diabetes - a condition which also often reduces sensitivity in feet and hands...

The most common mobility aid used by pedestrians with poor sight to facilitate their independent mobility is a long white cane. This is used to scan the ground in front of the person.
The scanning takes the form of sweeping the cane in an arc from one side to the other to just beyond the width of the body. This technique will usually locate potential obstructions such as street furniture, provided that there is some element at ground level, and distinct changes in level such as a kerb ...
An increasing number of people are using a long cane with a roller tip. The roller tip maintains contact with the ground as the cane is swept and may indicate the presence of distinct changes in texture underfoot, as well as the features usually detected by the more traditional type of long cane.
(Guidance on the use of Tactile Paving Surfaces, Department for Transport)

Crazy Paving

Do you know the way to San Jose
I've been away so long. I may go wrong and lose my way

Running through the centre of the Singleton Park campus is a strip of tactile paving ... Braille Paving as I call it. At a guess it's about two foot wide. As you come up the university driveway you reach Fulton House, which, according to the university website, ‘now houses a range of student services, restaurants, and shops’. That's where the tactile paving begins. It runs all the way past the Faraday Building (computer and data science), the Taliesin arts centre, Keir Hardie Building (College of Arts and Humanities, including English and Creative Writing), James Callaghan Building (American Studies, Egyptology, Callaghan's Starbucks coffee), the main Library (containing a Costa Coffee), before ending at the Abbey Building (Administration).

As the path reaches each building, a tactile branch leads right or left to the building's main entrance. That, my friends, filled me with such happiness it's almost up there with the Star Trek transporter! Although I know in my mind how the buildings are located on the campus, navigating from a hall of residence to them now that I can't see promised to be the biggest hurdle I am likely to encounter when I return; it could be the difference between me passing or failing the MA course. As soon as I found this Braille pathway I knew I had nothing to fear! Exploring a new place for the first time I'd normally let somebody be my sighted guide, meaning I hold their right elbow with my left hand, so I am lead by them but am also able to swish my cane as I walk. As Liz and I walked around the campus I was able to walk independently using the tactile paving without any problem whatsoever.

On behalf of all the academic and administrative staff in the College of Arts and Humanities I would like to welcome you to Swansea University. The next few years will be tremendously important to you. You will be learn new things whilst pursuing your studies, you will develop as a person and, with luck, you will make life-long friendships here.
(COAH webpage)

Maybe when I get there I can proof read their website for them ;)

Gwyneb i Wyneb

That's the Welsh for face to face, as best my mother and I can recall. The two days I spent in Swansea were a lovely mix of meeting new friends, making new friends, and meeting old friends who I hadn't seen for over 20 years; that's a heck of a lot of socialising for a guy who only leaves the house to walk to the bus stop or on the treadmill most weeks! I was staying with a lady called Liz and her husband Malcolm who are the Creme de la Creme of professional proof readers. I had not met Liz in person before, having become friends on Facebook within the last couple of months. As we were walking up to the halls of residence buildings a prety young lady called Kristen stopped to chat and she scores huge kudos for not believing I looked old enough to have been at the university before she was born! Kristen is in the middle of her Bachelor of Law degree, LLB. Finally as we left campus and prepared to head for the railway station so I could return to Abergavenny, we popped into the Welsh club, Tŷ Tawe. All of my university friends were first language Welsh speakers so I spent most of my weekends getting rather drunk on pints of Brains SA in Tŷ Tawe!

Manic Street Pictures

We tried to take a photo on my phone of me standing on the tactile path as I successfully followed it towards Fulton House, but for some reason the photos didn't save on my phone, or I can't find them! They should have been where I found the movie file that was used in the YouTube video further up this blog post, but there was no evidence they'd been saved there. So I've purloined two photos that show the tactile paving below. First up is this one of Fulton House, seen from the front left with the tactile paving on the right. This photo comes from Google.

Second is a photograph showing the area outside the main library. The tactile paving shows as a lighter path against the paving stones. No credit information found.

Beam me up Swansea

And on that note I better start writing my application to study MA Creative Writing next academic year. Am I excited? yn gwmws! (Of course!)

#Swansea #TactilePaving #DfT #CreativeWriting #Friends @Apply_Swansea_C

Published inblindnesseducationtechnology


  1. Frances Browner Frances Browner

    That’s great Giles. Didn’t realise that’s why you were practicing. An MA will be a fantastic experience. I did it long ago and loved it!

    • Giles Giles

      thanks Frances. Yes, I haven’t applied yet because I wanted to get a feel for how easy I’m going to find it to get to classes. After this week I’m certain I can manage it, so will be sorting out my application ideally before the end of the year 🙂

  2. I love these tactile footpaths. You may not be able to see, Giles, but you are making me look at things I never even noticed before. It’s wonderful!

    • Giles Giles

      *smile* most of the time that people don’t make things accessible it’s simply to them,as a sighted person, they don’t realise it can be difficult without sight. What makes me happiest is when people like you, nell, do such exemplorary work in describing images on a website or quickly correcting anything that me, as a blind person, is struggling with. Swansea university certainly didn’t have to install that tactile paving but it’ll make such a difference and, for me, is the factor affecting whether or not I feel I can do the course 🙂

  3. Charlotte Gann Charlotte Gann

    Braille paving – brilliant phrase.
    & even more brilliant they have it…

    The MA plan sounds wonderful x

    • Giles Giles

      The creative writing MA feels like exactly the right choice at exactly the right time. I’m looking forward to it very much 🙂 xx

  4. Susan Susan

    Do different buildings have a different texture? I’m imagining myself getting turned around in the dark. =) It would be nice if I could go along and think, wait, this is the wrong pattern! Then I could turn around and head the right direction.

    I’m so happy that this trip was reassuring and encouraging to you. Now, from the residence hall to the beginning of the path – is that a memorization issue?

    • Giles Giles

      well, yes it’s possible for buildings to have different textures, but on a university campus the chances are that all the buildings use the same materials and therefore have the same textures. But, when I walk anywhere I’m usually using other landmarks in the same way. Like in my YouTube video of walking through the village to find the bus stop, I try to find the tuft of grass that indicates the bottom of my drive at which point I need to step left onto the pavement. I pass two drains on the way down the road and they have a distinct texture and sound, and as I get to the bottom where I need to turn left towards the bus stop, there is grass which I then follow with my cane. Around the universtiy there are likely to be similar textures or obstacles that help me figure out where I’m at. With there being tactile paths leading off the straight path towards each building’s main entrance, I could count those if I know I need to take the third left to the English department or the second right to the library … I’m sure there will be times I get hopelessly lost, but a university campus feels a litle like a sheltered environment, in that I shouldn’t be able to go too far wrong and there will likely be somebody within shouting distance who may redirect me! You are exactly right though about the feeling of having no idea wehre you are if you lose your bearings. If I miss a landmark I may have no idea if I’ve not reached it yet or carried on past it, so then I have to consider whether to carry on or head back and try to find a landmark I recognise. This is why I’m starting my mobility refresher traning now, a year before I step out on my own, so I’m in better practice and have greater confidence by the time I’m back at Swansea 🙂

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