Shabby island: visually-impaired victims of lack of public hygiene and e-scooters

Visually-impaired are threatend by unhygienic street furniture, garbage uncollected on kerbsides, and e-scooters whizzing past them

To the visually-impaired the threat of unhygienic street furniture and environs is now a national concern
To the visually-impaired the threat of unhygienic street furniture and environs is now a national concern

Garbage and urban debris in some of Malta’s most populated towns and seaside localities have become a regular nuisance in the hot summer months. But to the visually-impaired the threat of unhygienic street furniture and environs is now a national concern.

So says Michael Micallef, the head of a new campaign – Safe And Hygienic Pedestrian Managements – who wants local councils and Prime Minister Robert Abela to come aboard the Visual Non-Visual Network’s (VNVN) campaign for public cleanliness.

“Blind people still face obstacles when walking daily on pavements, especially when these are relatively new, and when garbage is left out on pavements, or animal excrement is left on pavements,” said VNVN spokesperson Mary Anne Zammit.

Zammit will be meeting Sapport CEO Oliver Scicluna, the Malta Tourism Authority CEO Carlo Micallef, as well as representatives from the transport and public works ministries and the Office of the Prime Minister to discuss the campaign.

“We are proposing that there is more knowledge and information about these situations which to us seem trivial, but are great obstacles and even of danger to the blind as they may be more prone to accidents. The campaign is aiming to reach out to the administration of local councils and sections of law enforcement in Malta.”

Michael Micallef, who also runs the Beyond Light project for VNVN, said even guide dogs are victims of unsafe and unhygienic pedestrian areas. “It is mainly due to the impact of a dense population,” Micallef said. “Malta must surmount this passive, social inclusion framework... with hands-on, intensive, and actively safe, pedestrian management.”

Trash piling up on roadsides and pedestrian areas over the weekends are visible problems in tourist areas such as the Sliema, St Julian’s localities, as well as northern towns like St Paul’s Bay, Bugibba and Qawra.

Mounds of rubbish around the main thoroughfares exasperates residents who are concerned with infestations of vermin. But to the visually-impaired, mounds of rubbish and garbage bags block pavements – especially in areas where rental residents or short-stay holidaymakers are not acclimatised to garbage collection schedules.

St Julian’s mayor Albert Buttigieg has proposed the use of Green Wardens to increase surveillance in the area, but this would involve a new expense for cash-strapped local councils.

Buttigieg has also said that landlords should be responsible for a separate deposit from tenants, should they ignore rules of trash disposal in the neighbourhood.

Scooter trouble

Adding further to the woes of the visually-impaired, are the worsening concerns about e-scooters. The Malta Guide Dogs Foundation, which trains visually-impaired persons to become independent in their mobility through the use of the white cane and the guide dog, has had numerous complaints about dangerous driving and the careless abandonment of scooters.

“These cause inaccessibility and represent a serious danger to the visually impaired, who move around on their own with the support of a white cane or a guide dog,” spokesperson Charlotte Cilia said.

The MGDF says scooters should have an acoustic signal, apart from slowing down when approaching a visually-impaired person aided by a white cane or a guide dog.

“Scooters should not be carelessly abandoned on footpaths and pedestrian areas, so as to block the way, adding to the many other obstacles that unfortunately already exist; and authorities need to enhance enforcement and see that the use of scooters does not impinge on the safety and independence of visually-impaired persons,” Cilia said.

The MGDF said the risk is that many visually-impaired will increasingly feel discouraged to go out on their own unless these concerns are addressed. “The precious work performed by the Malta Guide Dogs Foundation so far, which gave such persons a greater degree of independence in their mobility, simply risks going lost.”