8 tips for personal safety

A lot of people worry about their personal safety when they are walking alone on a quiet street, but how much greater is that fear if you’re blind?

Sighted people can look out for cues - which are often non-verbal - to assess whether a situation could be dangerous or intimidating. For those with a visual impairment a lot of non-verbal cues are missed and this can make them vulnerable.

Sadly one of our service users, Les (pictured), experienced an attack earlier this year. Les is an active service user with Henshaws and a key contributor to the charity through his involvement in our feedback forum. He has had deteriorating sight for the past ten years, which began with double vision and after a stroke he lost vision completely in his right eye.

Les was attacked while returning to his house following a routine trip to the pharmacy. The incident occurred in April this year and although not fully aware of exactly what happened, Les believes that he was followed home and then the attacker followed him through the entrance door of his block of flats. The attacker grabbed him from behind and told him to give up his wallet and phone. Les initially resisted and following several blows to his head, was rendered unconscious. His next recollection was waking up in a hospital bed. He received a number of injuries but thankfully is recovering well.

His story appeared on Crimewatch on 12th June and police are hoping that a reconstruction will help identify the assailant.

Les wanted to tell his story to ensure that lessons could be learnt by others. He doesn’t want to scare people into staying at home but wants to ensure that they can take precautions to reduce the risk. So we spoke to Les and he gave us his 8 top tips for personal safety:

Les Lightfoot

1) Only take out what you need. Don’t carry any unnecessary items on your trips out. I was going to the pharmacy to pick up my regular prescription. I knew how much it was going to be. So I didn’t need my wallet with my library card, bank cards etc. So next time I would only take the money I need.

2) Leave house keys if another person is in the house. I live with my partner and so there may be times when we are both at home. On these occasions I suggest leaving your house keys with the other person or at least telling them where you are going and what you are doing.

3) Don’t leave valuables in outside pockets. Having valuable items in your outside pockets can be an easy target for an experienced pick pocket in a crowded area.

4) Give up items if attacked rather than resisting. If you are approached and confronted by a thief who asks for your wallet or phone. I would suggest that you provide these items without resisting.

5) Take avoiding action. Although I don’t have a direct solution for this issue I think that in hindsight I was aware of being followed by someone on a bike. I think that I need to think of a course of action that I should take in this situation. Maybe you could phone someone or as I was in a residential area I could have just knocked on a door and asked for help. If you are in a retail area you could just pop into a shop.

6) Trust your instincts if something doesn’t feel right. I have had many very kind people help me over the years. However, I did have one experience when a stranger helped me to the shops but wanted to walk with me back home. It just didn’t feel right. So I thanked him but declined and went into the shop. So follow your instincts.

7) Always carry a panic alarm. It may seem really obvious but I wish I had been carrying this device. I will be making sure in the future that I don’t forget it.

8) Most people will be genuinely trying to help you. I have used a cane every day for three years and had nothing but good experiences with people trying to help. I remember one day I was going out when there had just been a flash flood, which had knocked out a pelican crossing near my house. After leaving the house and reaching the crossing I didn’t realise it wasn’t working. A driver realised and stopped his car, got out and ensured that I got across the road safely.

How is Les now?

Immediately after the event Les didn’t want to come to Henshaws as he felt that his injuries may make other service users afraid and frightened.

However, since then he has come back and is enjoying his guitar group, with whom he recently played at our Henshaws Awards ceremony (pictured).

He has had a lot of support from different people including his partner, Henshaws, the police and victim support, all of which has seen him make strong steps to recovery.

Although Les was shaken by what happened to him and is now more vigilant he told us,

Guitar group

“I will not let this incident reduce my independence and quality of life in the long run. I still don’t have all my confidence back but I am working on it. I want to say that more than anything I don’t want this story to put people living with a visual impairment off going out. In the three years of going out independently at least 2 or 3 times a week I have had no problems at all.”

If you would like to get out and about more but are concerned about your personal safety then please do get in touch with our First Step Team who can provide advice and support to ensure you keep your independence. Call or email today:
0300 222 5555 / info@henshaws.org.uk

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Sarah is the Marketing Manager with responsibility for Community Services across Greater Manchester, and the Knowledge Village.
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