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The Differences Between The Netherlands And The UK For People With A Visual Impairment

I wrote this article (in English) for a Dutch magazine - who translated it into Dutch for me.

In England I am what is known as “Registered Partially Sighted” - this entitles me to walk around with a white stick (which I never use).

I was brought up to be independent and not make a big deal about my sight problem (which means I try to act “normal sighted” as much as possible. I am severely myopic (nearsighted) – I also have a condition called “Photophobia” which means my eyes are extremely sensitive to bright lights.

I am half-Dutch (my Mum was born in Rotterdam) and I have visited The Netherlands on several occasions in my lifetime.

This may sound funny but – for me at least – The Netherlands doesn't seem to make as much of a big deal of Visual Impairment as the UK does. Life as we know it doesn't suddenly grind to a halt when the Dutch are faced with someone who cannot see as well as people may expect.

If I am going about my daily life in England I have to put up with signs I cannot see, bad lighting, obstacles in my way (usually racks of clothing standing so close together that I cannot see a way through them from a distance).

The Dutch appear to have seriously considered any difficulty I may have as I wander around The Netherlands (in fact – the only slight problem I have is the steps onto the older trains).

Dutch signs are big and easy for me to read. Even the “Backlit” signs are easy to read. That is before you realise that the Dutch seem to be trained in “helpfulness” when they see someone struggling in their shops, etc.

However, the best thing for me is knowing I can walk into a Dutch shop, cafe, or restaurant, without wondering if I am going to crash into anything on my way around. Dutch shops are nicely spaced out (even when they are very small).

As for the difference between public transport in The Netherlands and the UK. The Dutch buses have nice clear destination boards. I particularly love the screens you find on some Dutch buses, Trams, Metro, and Trains, which show you the stops the vehicle will be calling at before it gets to its destination. (Dutch people don't have to peer out of the window in the dark wondering where they are in relation to their stop.)

I honestly feel the UK can learn a lot from The Netherlands about how to integrate people with sight problems into society without making a big fuss. In The Netherlands I feel “Designed Into” my surroundings – unlike the UK – where I feel designed out of them.

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