I saw him just ahead of me, a young man carrying a white cane walking confidently towards the escalator at Utrecht Central Station. What I knew and he could not know was that the escalator was under repair and there was a gaping hole just a few paces ahead of him.
I took his arm gently and said “you need to take the stairs today, the escalator is broken”. He walked with me to the top of the stairs and there I stepped to the right so that he would be back on the guided path set up for the visually impaired. He understood where he was and wandered off into the insanely busy station, the busiest in the country.
It’s a challenge to move around a city without being able to see your surroundings, but NS, the Dutch national railway company has taken a big step in making it easier for visually impaired people to get around the country. As of late 2017 all railway stations in the Netherlands became accessible for the visually impaired, this includes;
- 90 km of guide lines through stations
- sound tiles
- braille signs
- tactile maps in the four biggest stations of Amsterdam, Utrecht, Den Haag and Rotterdam
- 5000 spoken route descriptions
The 350,000 blind or partially sighted people living in the Netherlands can use the stations more easily. Of course the rest of us need to take care not to leave obstacles in the guide lines and keep an eye out when repairs are underway, but this is brilliant.