I've lost count of the number of times I've driven past The Guide Dogs Training School on Manor Road. Today I actually got to visit for a briefing on key issues facing guide dog owners, a tour of the kennels and an experience of what it's like to walk around the area entirely reliant on a guide dog.
Initially I was disorientated and very nervous about being reliant on a person and then an assistance dog to guide me around.
Once I got over my initial discombobulation, a few things struck me (not literally thankfully!). The first was that the surfacing and layouts of pavements really mattered to me. Every lump and bump on the road was a challenge. Where pavement crossings weren't clearly marked out I wasn't always sure whether I was back on the pavement or in the road. Crossing the road was already a challenge as the guide dogs can't make judgements about when it's safe to cross. I had to rely entirely on my own hearing. Having well designed pavements with small bumps by crossings really helps work out where to cross - especially if the pavement doesn't have a clear kerb.
The second thing I noticed was that everything that brushed past my hand came as a shock - and an unpleasant one at that.
The final thing I noticed was how reliant I was on hearing. This might seem like an obvious point, but it does mean that I felt particularly vulnerable to risks I couldn't hear - like a passer by walking softly or a bicycle going past on the road. It made me think more about how we could all be more considerate if we see someone blind or partially sighted. It definitely shows how important things like audio announcements are on public transport.
I was really grateful to the whole team for their time. Following hot on the heels of my meeting with Transport for All last week, I definitely have a great deal of expert advice and some first hand experience to feed into Mayor of London Sadiq Khan's transport strategy for Transport for London.