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Blind ignored when city lowered height of kerbs, court told

By Alan Erwin

Published 16/03/2016

Joanna Toner (third from right) with her guide dog and some of her supporters outside the High Court
Joanna Toner (third from right) with her guide dog and some of her supporters outside the High Court

Plans to make kerbs in Lisburn city centre lower were never subject to an equality impact assessment, a blind woman's lawyer has told the High Court in Belfast.

Counsel for Joanna Toner claimed consultation around the project was flawed, with partially-sighted people unaware how low the pavement edges would become.

Ms Toner is taking legal action over the 30mm kerbs, which were created as part of a major revitalisation initiative for the city.

Her lawyers claim it could pose safety risks because guide dogs may not recognise the difference in street levels and may not stop at kerbs before crossing roads.

Academic research recommending that the edges should be at least 60mm in height was not properly considered, they allege.

Ms Toner is seeking a judicial review, claiming she has been discriminated against on disability grounds.

The multimillion-pound public realm scheme is aimed at transforming the main city centre streets.

The work involved creating new paving and kerbs in and around Bow Street and the Market Square areas. Ms Toner has expressed fears she could be excluded from parts of her own city centre because of the risk of stepping out and being hit by the traffic.

She was back in court yesterday with friends and members of the blind community for her legal challenge against the new Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council.

Guide Dogs NI and the Royal National Institute of Blind People in Northern Ireland are both backing the action.

Part of the case involves claims that Ms Toner was not made aware of a consultation process around the street revamp. It is also argued that the scheme breached both the Disability Discrimination Act and Ms Toner's human rights.

Her QC, Neasa Murnaghan, contended: "We have no record that there ever was an (equality) impact assessment in respect to the scheme."

She also claimed that the whole process had involved a "muddled series of miscommunication".

The barrister additionally challenged assertions that the 30mm height was made clear at a presentation.

Ms Murnaghan argued that Ms Toner and other partially sighted people either did not hear or did not realise the pavement edges would be so low after the work.

"In their understanding, there was to be conventional height kerbs," she told Mr Justice Maguire.

It was claimed that blind people had "missed the boat" because they had failed to raise the issue at the consultation meeting.

Referring to the alleged attitude of one of those behind the scheme, Ms Murnaghan added: "Having missed the opportunity, it was too late to take into account their objections."

The case continues.

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