Access Group

NDF’s access work can involve several categories:

  • responding to Newcastle City Council consultations on Traffic Regulation Orders, cycle paths and planning applications;
  • commenting on new housing schemes, refurbishment of public places, stopping of highways, realignment of traffic routes and enhancement of leisure facilities such as public parks and heritage assets;
  • liaising with other public bodies;
  • receiving presentations from, and commenting on, projects by architects, planners and developers;
  • providing accessibility information for the City Council and charitable organisations, along with private companies and businesses based on the lived experience of the membership.

The Forum also monitors possible dangers to disabled people in public places, and reports these to the City Council with recommendations for action. It has representation on the Regional Access Committee and the Local Access Forum, keeping up to date with current standards and discussing issues of mutual concern.

In essence, NDF acts as an advocate of best practice to encourage high standards of new and remedial works which facilitate the safe movement of disabled people in all aspects of the internal and external environment, thus enabling them to live their lives to the full.

If you have any problems with access, or would just like to know more, why not contact us.

You can get involved by coming to an access meeting (these take place regularly) or by joining a visit to a specific street/junction/building in the city to look at access issues and suggest solutions (these take place on request).  If you are interested, please contact us.

Newcastle Street Charter

At the beginning of September 2016, Newcastle City Council were due to introduce a street charter for residents.  This charter looks mainly at obstacles on pavements.  It endorses the work that NDF has been doing for the past 22 years, e.g.  parking on pavements, overhanging branches and general street clutter.  More details will be available soon on the Newcastle City Council website.

If you have any queries or concerns, we would be happy to hear from you by email at or by phone on 0191 284 0480.


Pathway Hazards

Newcastle Disability Forum has a keen interest in all types of access.  Over the last 30 years the Forum has been involved in many projects.  Pathway hazards is an example of work which has been carried out over the years.

Please click below for a full report including photos.

Pathway Hazards


Gordon Forster, a retired chartered Civil Engineer, and a member of NDF, submitted in October 2016 a report to the House of Commons Select Committee Inquiry into the ‘built environment’.  Please find Gordon’s report below:

Executive Summary

Over the last 20+ years there have been many recognised government, charity and NGO publications on these topics.  One of the most comprehensive covering many areas is DfTs ‘Inclusive Mobility’ 2005. Whilst only guidance many situations could be made safe by adopting its recommendations.

These listed items have been compiled by NDF members and friends about issues which greatly affect the lives of people with physical and sensory impairments and have long required action. They are categorised by the situation where they most frequently occur which are:

  1. Public Highways:

Insufficient dropped kerbs, shared surfaces, street obstructions & Zebra crossing issues.

  1. Home accessibility:

Facilities required for disabled people.

  1. Buildings open to the public:

Entrances, aids for visually impaired people, lifts & public toilets.

  1. Signage in and outside:

Recommended guidance to adopt in consideration of elderly and visually impaired people.

  1. Public Authorities:



Newcastle Disability Forum Submission.

Detailed issues affecting Disabled and other People:

  1. Public Highways

1.1. Dropped Kerbs:

Wheelchair users constantly complain about the need to have dropped kerbs at every road junction with the full width clear of gullies and bollards, otherwise they may be forced to travel unsafe distances on carriageways.

1.2. Shared Highways spaces:

1.2.1. On a shared highway surface all users can go anywhere within the zone so all users must look out to be aware of all other movements. Guide dogs for the blind and many blind and partially-sighted people cannot normally ‘look out’ but rely on a conventional kerb face to keep safe, or risk crossing the trafficked zones.

1.2.2. Where these situations first arose in Newcastle we know many blind and partially sighted people and guide dog users who, for safety reasons, avoid the areas.

This is clearly discriminatory on the part of the local authority.

1.2.3. Lacking any Guide Dogs for the Blind Association (GDBA) or DfT directive on a substitute for these kerb-less schemes we installed the prescribed tactile surface (the modified blister) for an ‘uncontrolled crossing’ because we are told you can walk anywhere.  It seemed reasonable to say the kerb-less lines appeared to be a continuous ‘uncontrolled crossing’.

At the same time we tried to justify a Toucan safe crossing at some convenient point within the zone, all in the hope that guide dog users and others would soon be taught these new routes, this being a regular practice.

1.2.4. However the DfT suddenly decided without apparent consultation that the tactile paving to adopt instead of kerbs would be the corduroy pattern previously designated exclusively for the approach to steps, where the danger is entirely different. This is a quite unacceptable autocratic change, particularly as they now state that under no circumstances should the blister surface be used. This leaves Newcastle supporting two different, inconsistent systems.

1.2.5. Note that the surface finishes for these zones must be carefully selected, should have coloured contrast between zones and be safe in all weathers for all types of traffic and pedestrians.

1.2.6. From a technical view it should be noted that when an existing highway is converted to a shared surface scheme while the surface levels, drainage and finishes may change, the substructure under the footways will only, on rare occasion, be excavated deeper, below utility services, and upgraded to the deeper heavier construction necessary to support road traffic – so the old footway areas are still unsuitable to support vehicles and the highway authority would normally wish to take measures to keep such traffic off the old footways, by introducing planters, seats etc.

1.3. Street obstructions and hazards affect many pedestrians and street users.

1.3.1. Clearer streets: Pedestrians carrying goods, double buggies, guide dog and wheelchair users need a 1500mm wide safe zone in which to navigate and/or pass.

Blind people who use long canes to feel their way rely on a boundary or kerb to help them, so all street furniture should be selected without sharp corners, and positioned within a 450mm zone of the boundary or kerb. Streets, seats and the like benefit from having such as a round planter of similar width on the approach.

Black seems to be a good colour for posts and boxes.

Bollards need to be more than 159mm in diameter, high with a broad deep visibility band near the top. Stainless steel is not good visually so should not be used for posts or bollards.

1.3.3. Obstructing street cafés must be licensed by the local authority and have barriers with a tapping rail to surround then.

1.3.4. ‘A’ board adverts and the like are illegal on a public highway so must be removed or kept within the property boundary. Advertising bollard covers may be a suitable alternative if approved.

1.3.5. Parking on footways and vehicles left with open rear doors or tail overhangs can cause severe injury to blind people.

Planning authorities must ensure that projected estate submissions and the like include adequate parking for each property and also ensure there is sufficient visitor parking and can cope with commercial vehicles.

1.3.6. Wheeled bins and rubbish bags are frequently left abandoned on the footway, which causes an obstruction for wheelchair uses and a hazard for blind people. This is often after council-controlled emptying.

1.3.7. Insignificant low bollards without large high visibility markings are a trip hazard to partially sighted people, pedestrians and drivers.

1.3.8. Overgrown branches and shrubbery extending over the footway are a great danger to blind people, who regularly use boundary walls or fences as a guide. Local authorities need to enforce owners to remove or cut back these obstructions or do it themselves, charging the owners.

1.3.9. Guide Dogs for the Blind Association (GDBA) Survey

This is a list of the highway problems causing difficulties to blind and partially sighted people as found by their 2002 survey:

  1. Overgrown hedges and overhanging trees.
  2. Cars parked on footways.
  3. Wheeled bins and rubbish sacks.
  4. Shop ‘A’ boards, café tables and chairs.
  5. Discarded chewing gum.
  6. Discarded broken glass.
  7. Temporary street works.
  8. Bicycles lying outside houses and shops.
  9. Cyclists, scooters and skate boarders on footways.
  10. Badly maintained footways.

Point 1 is the worst problem of all.  In respect of problem 1 GDBA  approached every UK city and town Mayor to do all that they can to eliminate the problem. One third of those approached responded in a positive manner.

1.4. Inaccessible pedestrian crossings

1.4.1. It is unfortunate that blind and partially sighted people cannot regard a Zebra crossing as a ‘pedestrian controlled crossing’ because there is no controlling button to stop the traffic. Many blind and deaf-blind people will not have the courage to step onto the Zebra if they have doubts about approaching traffic. Zebras must therefore be regarded as ‘unsafe pedestrian controlled crossings’.

Pelicans and Toucans are the only types acceptable as safe.

1.4.2. Newcastle City Council refuses to provide Toucan crossings (or similar) over a new two-way cycleway because they say DfT does not approve them.

These are pedestrian crossings over John Dobson Street, Newcastle City’s principal north – south vehicle-carrying street, where we previously had safe Pelican crossings over each of the dual carriageways. The current alterations are changing that to a single two-way carriageway plus a single two-way cycle track. Safe Toucan crossings are installed over the carriageway but unsafe ‘look alike’ raised Zebra crossings with approach tactile paving signifying a ‘controlled crossing’ have been installed over the two-way cycleway.

Here some blind and partially sighted people are now encountering what were previously safe routes but are now unsafe routes from and to essential services within the city. An unacceptable situation has been forced upon us.

2 Home accessibility

2.1. Small visual digital displays:

These are usually unreadable by blind and partially sighted people. This affects home atmosphere controls, meters, some alarm systems and many types of white goods. RNIB were developing an integrated circuit which would convert digital characters into speech.  This, combined with an amplified miniature speaker incorporated at time of concept, is the potential solution.

2.2. Door entry systems are inaccessible to those with poor speech i.e. Laryngectomies where voice controlled, and to blind people who cannot read them as explained above.

2.3. All new build homes must have ramped access with extra space to store prams, powered wheelchairs, buggies and the like.

  1. Buildings open to the public

3.1. Wheelchair users need an accessible entrance – after all these years of legislations a few public buildings and numerous other service providers’ premises may still be inaccessible. There is a need for disabled people to be able to enforce action without involving themselves in personal legal expense.

3.2. Blind and partially sighted people need a well-lit accessible reception desk or area easily located near the entrance, along with other arrangements such as contrasting colours to walls, doors, floors, handrails, step nosings, sanitary ware surroundings, warning notices as well as good illumination in darker routes and staircases.

3.3. Accessible toilets

Depending on size and arrangement some may be only suitable for some people.

These toilets as well routes to them are frequently used for inappropriate storage.

3.4. Two Way Loop systems should be installed at reception desks, meeting rooms and auditoria as they are required for those with hearing and speech difficulties.

3.5. Lifts

Some partially sighted people find lifts so inaccessible they look for the nearest staircase.

3.5.1. Large control buttons are required (i.e. 40mm square or diameter) with illuminated characters or symbols, with Braille.

3.5.2. Internal audio announcements should say “This is floor Five” NOT “Fifth floor”.

3.5.3. It is good if at each floor there is a large eye-level floor number sign seen from within the lift when the doors open.

3.6. Public Toilets

Whilst these are not mandatory for local authorities, where they are provided, there is an opportunity to assist blind and partially sighted people to safely identify hot and cold taps, or which way to turn a lever by using large more visible tactile markers.

  1. Signage inside and outside

The most common complaint from partially sighted people and many elderly people is that the signs or notices are too high or too small to read. Many people can see there is a sign but cannot read its message. The following recommendations are to enable more people who are visually impaired overcome this.

4.1. Basics

The Building Regulations and other Government Guidelines require conformity with the RNIB Sign Design Guide. The following are the practical extracts which are essential for many people to be informed independently inside and outside of buildings.

4.2. Sign groups

These are warning, information, way-finding, and location signs. Schemes should be planned with care and consistency, directions must follow a logical progression throughout an area.

4.3. All signs

Should have short simple messages, be unambiguous, consistent in positioning and style, using clear plain lettering (e.g. Arial) in mixed case, slightly embossed for tactility, with good colour contrast such as dark characters on a white or pale yellow signboard or vice versa (avoid red and green for sector identification as they can be difficult for people with colour blindness).

All signs must be none reflective, well illuminated by day or night and should not be placed where bright sunlight could affect legibility.

Polished brass signs, with engraved or coloured text are mostly impossible to read so should be avoided.

Signs should not be positioned where there could be potential obstructions, i.e. not on doors or on walls behind tables, stacking areas, behind counters such as receptions or buffets.

4.4. Signboards

Should have colour contrast between the wall colour and the signboard background colour, or have coloured borders.

4.5. Signboard positions

Should be fixed at a height above floor level between 1400mm and 1700mm to allow people the opportunity to get their eyes within 100mm of the text and/or touch the sign.

Note that overhead signs are discouraged because they cannot comply with these criteria.

4.6. Symbols and pictograms

Can convey information in a very concise way, are helpful to people with learning difficulties, and can have international meanings. Symbols are best to BSS, in contrasting colours, embossed tactile and typically about 200mm high.

4.7. Braille

Should also be provided in Grade 1 Braille on most signs, prefixed by a tactile vertical semicircular locator. It is uncomfortable to read Braille on a vertical signboard much below 1200mm above ground unless tilted forward and outward.

4.8. The height of sign lettering is most important

It is measured by the ’x’ height of the character set which is the height of a lower case x.  The ‘x’ height is dependent on the sight distance and is determined in millimetres by multiplying the sight distance in metres by 57 but the ‘x’ height should not be less than 10mm. This formula is from the Sign Design Guide graph (page 50) using the blue line for a visual acuity down to 3/60.

If overhead signs are the only option, text height needs to be increased upwards according to the above formula.

As an example a signboard positioned above a door opening is likely to be some 2.4m above floor level, which represents a sight distance from a person eyes of at least 1.3m requiring a text ‘x’ height of  1.3m x 57 = 74 mm (about 3″).

4.9. Internally illuminated, matrix, LED or plasma signs:

This signage type is not included in the RNIB Guide.

They must be located in areas of low ambient light, away from other lights and where sunlight cannot reach them. Moving and refreshing messages should not change at the normal reading speed but some four to five times slower. When such signs are fixed high on a wall or overhead, please observe the above formula for an accessible text height.

  1. Public Authorities

5.1. Procurement

When an authority make a purchase they must conformed to the Statutory Instrument 2006 No. 5 ‘The Public Contracts Regulations 2006’:

Whenever new equipment, facilities etc are procured they must choose a fully accessible option.

Compiled by Gordon K. Forster

(Retired chartered Civil Engineer)

For and as a member of Newcastle Disability Forum.

3rd October 2016