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Belfast Without Sight: Exploring Geographies of Blindness

Robert M. Kitchin, R. Daniel Jacobson, Mark Blades


In this paper the transformed spaces of visually impaired and blind people is explored through a detailed analysis of interview transcripts with twenty seven visually impaired people living in or around Belfast. Data were collected using a structured open-ended interview and were analysed within NUD-IST, a qualitative data analysis package. Analysis revealed that visually impaired people become spatially confused (e.g. lost or disorientated) for two primary reasons. ‘Self-produced’ confusion is spatial confusion caused by the misperception/miscognition of a route (e.g. miscounting intersections). ‘Situational’ confusion is spatial confusion caused by a permanent or temporary localised occurrences such as road works, vehicles parked on pavements, and street furniture. Both types of spatial confusion were found to induce feelings of fear and anxiety, leading to a loss of self-confidence, embarrassment and frustration, which in turn led to less independent travel and exploration, and constrained patterns of spatial behaviour. Respondents detailed a number of strategies for coping with spatial confusion. In addition, they assessed methods to make Belfast more navigable including environmental modifications and orientation and mobility aids.

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