|October 27, 2002|
I am writing to express my deep concerns about the proposed guidelines currently before the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board, (ATBCB) relating to detectable warning strips and accessible pedestrian signals. I believe that, we, blind people, can travel through the world as it is. I am 55 years old, have always been blind and have traveled independently all of my life. Many thousands of blind people have done and continue to do the same. So why this drive to indiscriminately alter every intersection in the US.., on the one hand; and why the passionate outcry against these devices, by the very people they will supposedly help, on the other?
Many blind people have testified and written to you on this subject already, I hope my letter can help you arrive at good public policy? The thoughts I will share with you are based not only on my own life experience, but also on the experience of the thousands of blind people I have met during the 9 years I served as a commissioner on the Michigan Commission for the Blind Commission board and during the 30 years I have advocated for blind people as an officer in the National federation of the Blind. I hope they will be of help to you.
First wouldn't it help if all of us would begin with the understanding that detectable warning strips and accessible pedestrian signals are tools. They are neither good or bad in themselves. Like all tools they can be used in helpful or harmful ways. You can't build a house without a Skill saw and a nail gun. But, you can't cut a panel with a nail gun or drive a nail with a skill saw. The proposed guidelines presume that Accessible pedestrian signals and detectable warning strips are always necessary. The experience we, blind people, have had leads us to believe that they may be helpful in some circumstances but for the most part they are a nuisance, to the blind and sighted alike.
The proposed guidelines address barriers that don't exist for most of us. Worse they ignore the most important mobility tools we have, long white canes, dog guides and the multitude of sensory information we get from the environment. Of course a person needs good instruction to use these tools well. What are the human social and fiscal benefits of these different approaches?
Detectable Warning Strips allow me to feel the end of a sidewalk with my feet or cane. They slow me down because my cane gets caught in them. They are also dangerously slick when wet or iced over. I can already feel the end of most sidewalks. I think these strips should only be used where the sidewalk edges can't be felt; those with a curb cut so flat that you can't tell its their.
Accessible Pedestrian Signals create sounds that are supposed to help me orient myself at intersections and tell me when to cross the street. The environment provides me enough information to do all this at most intersections already. Only a very few street crossings which are irregular with abnormal traffic patterns cause me any difficulty. I think those few street crossings should be the only ones where special signals should be used.
I don't want any unnecessary sounds when I cross the street. I need the sounds of traffic etc. to stay oriented. Any extraneous noise puts me in real danger. So any accessible signals should use tactile information which is activated by the blind persons themselves.
The modifications of the world which the ATBCB is considering could be helpful, used in the limited way I have described. They should only be used where competent blind people feel they are needed. But the indiscriminate use of these devices in the proposed guidelines is dangerous to blind people and fiscally out of the question. The cost of modifying 1 intersection in the way you have outlined could pay to teach a blind person to travel for the rest of his/her life. Society will not tolerate such a cost.
These proposals will hold blind people up as ridiculous and incompetent. They will validate the worst stereotypes about us and set us back many years. I urge you, the ATBCB, to rethink these extremely harmful guidelines.
Thank you for your attention
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