|September 18, 2002|
My name is Tina Hansen, and I am a member of the National Federation of the Blind, the largest organization of the blind in the country.
I understand that your board is proposing rules and guidelines that effectively require detectable warnings, e.g. truncated domes, and/or accessible pedestrian signals at every intersection.
From my own experience, I don't believe this is practical. For one thing, the best audible traffic signal is generally the traffic itself, and beeping lights could be more of a distraction.
I also believe that detectable warnings, a la truncated domes, at all crosswalks isn't practical because at many crosswalks, the rise and fall of the curb can be easily detected by a blind person with a white cane.
Bottom line: I believe that if these detectable warnings and/or accessible pedestrian signals are to be used at all, their use should be limited to circumstances where the natural environment does not give enough information to the blind traveler, or where traffic patterns are so unusual that they give little or no reliable information.
I also understand that the accessible pedestrian signals actually give little information other than telling someone when it's safe to walk, but if there are a number of them at an intersection, the information could be of little value if one doesn't know what they're doing.
You should also know that the National Federation of the Blind operates 3 model training centers across the country; one in Colorado, one in Louisiana, and one in Minnesota. These centers teach their students how to travel about safely in the world as it is. I am about to be attending our center in Colorado, and while there, I will be learning good travel skills that I will be able to use anywhere I go, whether it be in Portland, Denver or Washington DC.
While the research shows how effective use of real travel skills can help a blind person, such as myself, get to their destination safely, I don't believe there is enough of an argument to warrant the use of detectable warnings and/or accessible pedestrian signals at every single intersection. So why are proponents claiming these aids are so necessary?
I believe that one reason so many are claiming that these costly aids are absolutely necessary boils down to the lack of good travel training available to blind persons. I argue that if a blind person is made to depend on these aids, then one or another of them isn't there, that blind person could be faced with a number of problems. But, on the other hand, if a blind person receives good travel training at one of our centers, and through other confident blind travelers, they can learn how to be made aware of their surroundings easily. If an accessible pedestrian signal isn't there, the blind person can manage by listening for the traffic, then crossing when they know it's safe. If one of these signals is there, they are generally more of a hinderance than a help, as they can send mixed messages to the traveler.
I also believe the other reason so many believe these aids are necessary is the age-old fear of the dark. Proponents for these costly aids assume that blindness is a tragedy that can only be dealt with by touches of kindness, and that without these costly aids, the blind person is utterly helpless. They believe that they will make a blind person feel secure, but I believe the security given by these aids is not true security. On the other hand, I believe that blindness need not be a tragedy, but I can learn how to live as a blind person. For me, blindness does not mean helplessness, but it means learning how to live in the world as it is, and making changes when we believe we need them. It's mor a matter of coping than crying. If a blind person learns good travel skills, they feel a true security from knowing that they can get about wherever they are. This is why I am willing to learn how to become a better traveler.
Bottom line: It all comes down to a matter of attitude, and for me, costly detectable warnings and accessible pedestrian signals at every single intersection is not the answer.
Thank you for reading my comments, and I encourage you to give them thoughtful consideration.
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