WHEN rights for people with disabilities are discussed, Alan Fletcher has a simple philosophy.

“Why should anybody with any disability be different to anybody that hasn’t got a disability?

“It’s all about people listening to issues which anybody with a disability, not just visually-impaired people, have, and doing their utmost to overcome the issues that we’ve got.

“They don’t necessarily have to wait until they’re told by a government that they need to change, that they’ve got to change their guidance, that this is the way they’ve got to work.

“There are things they can change themselves, and then they can maybe hold their hands up and say, ‘We’ve done this and look what a difference it’s made.’”

Alan was first registered as having severely impaired vision in 2005, and has since become completely blind.

He was diagnosed with retinal dystrophy, a condition causing progressive sight loss, and also had a tumour behind his right eye of a kind which affects only seven people in a million.

Alan is a former engineer-manager at Swindon’s BMW Mini plant, and feels his engineering background influenced the way he dealt with - and still deals with - his situation.

“When I was first diagnosed, and they said I was severely impaired I was like anybody else, really. ‘Why me?’ ‘What have I done to deserve this?’ All those sorts of things.

“But I then thought to myself, ‘I can’t do anything about it – I’ve just got to get on with life as best I can.’ And one of the ways to do that was to have a guide dog, so I went down that route.

“I just think I can get on with life as best as I can, and if I come up against anything I’ll try my best to get around it.

“I think that’s maybe the engineering part of my life. You’re always looking to overcome issues that are causing a problem and your role is to try and overcome the problem.”

Alan was happy to endorse the petition to the Prime Minister seeking safe and accessible urban environments for all.

He has long campaigned about issues which blight the lives not just of people with vision impairment but a variety of other disabilities.

In Swindon, those issues include shared traffic spaces - zones such as the one near the Regent Circus Development in which there are no traffic lights and drivers are supposed to stop as a courtesy - which he has always insisted are perilous to the blind and visually-impaired.

“Even now we’re still campaigning to get them to take it away, but at the minimum to put in traffic lights. I really got involved with that through the National Federation for the Blind UK. They have been helping visually impaired people to try and get better accessibility in the UK, similarly to what the RNIB or Guide Dogs do.”

Other problems include cars parked on pavements by inconsiderate drivers, and rubbish left on pavements on or near collection days.

Alan attended his first meeting of the Guide Dogs charity’s Swindon branch in October of 2006 and became chairman in January of 2008.

He stepped down in 2017 following a tenure in which the branch raised nearly £500,000 for the charity, and is still an active member and organiser of events.

Training a guide dog is a long and intense process, beginning with volunteer puppy walkers who socialise the dogs and give them basic instruction over the course of a year or more.

Next comes a three-month stint with a professional trainer to learn skills such as walking in the middle of pavements, knowing left and right, stopping at kerbs and using crossings.

“Then they go on to a Guide Dog Mobility Instructor, and that person actually trains the dog for the needs of the guide dog owner. My needs may be different to a person in London who has to cope with escalators, use the Tube and all that sort of thing.

“The dogs stay with them for about three months, and then they come out to the guide dog owner they’ve been allocated to and start training with them.”

Guide Dogs Swindon is on Facebook, and the national website is www.guidedogs.org.uk