Smartphone addiction: blind people knocked over, injured

13th October 2017 6:38 AM

WHETHER Rikki Chaplin is walking in Sydney or Melbourne, there's one thing he can always count on - people never getting out of his way.

The advocacy officer for Blind Citizens Australia has been blind since birth and has plenty of horror stories about walking through our bustling cities.

A study by Guide Dogs Australia found that more than a third of people using a white cane were bumped into every time they walked out the front door while 60 per cent of those doing the bumping were engrossed in their mobile phone.

Almost half of all white cane users had also been knocked over, injured or had their cane broken by someone walking into them in the past two years, the study said.

"There's always people on me. Some refuse to move out of the way and a lot of them even just try and jump over my cane," Mr Chaplin told news.com.au.

White canes can cost up to $50 to replace.
White canes can cost up to $50 to replace. News Corp Australia

While living in Melbourne, he went through four walking canes in just 12 months after city dwellers kept hitting them and bending them out of shape.

Vision Australia provides vision-impaired people with one free cane a year but a replacement costs $50 a pop, meaning he's spending hundreds of dollars each year for other people's ignorance.

"You have to be careful with the way things are these days. Particularly when I'm alone, I'm worried about what could happen. They could pull a knife on me or hurt me or something," Mr Chaplin said.

And there's one thing a lot of these impolite people have in common - the majority are on their phones, buried in their Facebook feeds or WhatsApp chats..

Mr Chaplin said he would like to see governments take action to stop with people ignoring their surroundings because they are distracted by their mobiles.

"I don't see any good reason why people need to be walking and texting. It's yet another thing I shouldn't have to worry about," he said. "There's a complete lack of consideration and the level of some people's ignorance is insane."

Erin Goedhart, a Melbourne mum of two, has been using a white cane for 20 years and like Mr Chaplin, struggles with people walking while using their phone.

"Shopping centres are the worst," she said. "People are so distracted and so oblivious."

While Ms Goedhart doesn't think people are doing it on purpose, she said getting knocked into so often could be "demoralising".

"I'm the mother of two teenage girls so I'm going to the grocery store at least three to four times a week. Getting knocked into regularly can be really demoralising but it's a mind over matter situation, you just have to force yourself to go," she said.

Ms Goedhart, whose sight has especially deteriorated over the past two years, said people's obsessions with their phones made "a task that was already pretty hard into something extremely difficult".

Smartphones could now replace point-and-shoot cameras: Smartphones are now at the stage where they can replace point-and-shoot cameras for image quality and features.

Even when she had her husband or kids to help guide her, people still didn't get out of the way.

"They get really frustrated when people don't move. It makes their job a lot harder having to deal with people just not moving out of the way at all," Ms Goedhart said.

While she said it's a huge problem, she didn't think legislation was the answer.

"I think it would be really sad if we had to legislate against walking with your phone," Ms Goedhart said. "Australians are smarter than that. "People just need to be educated about how to be courteous."

And before her sight had completely deteriorated, she admitted to dolling out a little bit of justice herself.

"Sometimes I used to see people coming straight for me and I'd just keep going. My cane would whack their ankles but you really only need that to happen once or twice and hopefully you won't do it again. I'm helping blind people in the future," Ms Goedhart said, before emphasising that most people were "actually really good" about getting out of the way.

Guide Dogs Victoria chief executive Karen Hayes said running into someone who was vision-impaired could be a terrifying experience for them.

"Sometimes running into someone can just be a shock but other times it can be very harmful, upsetting and disorienting for the person with vision loss, particularly when it results in an injury or a broken cane," she said.

Ms Hayes said that while Guide Dogs Australia helped vision-impaired people to be independent and move around their community, they could not prepare for seeing people not looking up.

"Unfortunately there are certain environmental factors, like moving people, that they often can't identify until it's too late," she said.

Guide Dogs Australia's study is being used to launch its Eyes Up campaign, encouraging people to be more aware and pull their heads out of their phones.

"It can be as easy as waiting until you reach your destination to check your mobile device, or using more caution by slowing your pace and looking up often if you have to use your device while walking," Ms Hayes said.

SMOMBIES - ZOMBIES ON SMARTPHONES

Walking with a smart phone has become such an issue, numerous governments all around the world have started to consider legislating against it.

"Distracted walking" has become so common, the Germans even invented a word for the people who do it: "smombies" - zombies on smartphones.

Honolulu, the capital of Hawaii, passed a bill in July that made it illegal to text while crossing the street. Honolulu Police Department can enforce the law from October 25, fining first timers $US15-35 which can reach $US99 for a third offence.

"We hold the unfortunate distinction of being a major city with more pedestrians being hit in crosswalks, particularly our seniors, than almost any other city in the county," the mayor, Kirk Caldwell said at the time.

And Hong Kong, which has a massive issue with "distracted walking" has placed announcements in their subways advising passengers: "Don't keep your eyes only on your mobile phone."