October 24, 2002
I don't write this kind of letter very often, but I feel compelled to write to
you in support of the PROWAC report. Audible pedestrian signals and detectable
warning strips on curb cuts and subway platforms, despite what some blind people
might say, would go a long way toward making everyday travel safer and easier
for us. We are competent travelers, and most of the time get where we want to go
without incident, but appreciate warnings of the hazards in our paths, just as
our sighted peers do.
Several years ago, an acquaintance of mine fell off a subway platform in Penn
Station and was killed because she was hit by a train before she could climb
back up onto the platform. She was going to her job, something she had done
hundreds of times before. Nobody knows for sure why she fell; possibly she
became disoriented because of the heat and noise on the platform. Would warning
strips on the edge of the platform have saved her life? Very possibly. The
different texture under her feet would have warned her that she was at the edge
of the platform.
I work in the downtown section of Albany, New York. I cross busy streets going
to and from the bus and running errands at lunchtime. The sidewalks at the
corners where I cross all have curb cuts. Oftentimes there is no way to
differentiate between the bottom of the ramp and the street, and I have on
occasion found myself several feet into the street before I realized I was
there. This could be very dangerous when the traffic in front of me is moving.
Tactile warning strips at the bottom of these ramps would alert me to the fact
that I am about to step into the street.
The city of Albany has installed audible traffic signals at twelve different
intersections. They aren't the talking signals I would have liked, they make
chirping and cuckoo noises. I wasn't planning on ever using them because I
didn't like them. But one day as I stood at the corner, the light changed in my
favor. There was no traffic noise for a few seconds. Somebody, not me, pressed
the walk button, and I heard a chirp so I knew the light had changed. Had I
waited until there was enough traffic noise for me to know I had the light, it
would have been in the middle of the cycle, and would probably have changed
before I made it to the other side of the street.
I have been a member of the American Council of the Blind for over 28 years and
one of the most valuable lessons I have learned is that what one blind person
considers unnecessary might be just what another blind person needs. If there
are blind people out there who feel that they don't want to use detectable
warning strips or audible traffic signals, they will never be forced to do so.
If the real purpose of these aids was explained to these people, most, I am
sure, would realize their value.
In closing, let me just state that while there are no records of how many blind
people have been injured or killed from falling off subway platforms or being
hit by motor vehicles, we all know it happens, and most of us can name people to
whom it has happened. Laws are constantly being passed to prevent vehicular
accidents. Manufacturers put warning labels on everything to prevent us from
doing something that might hurt us. Signs advise of wet floors, fencing is put
up when work is being done on sidewalks. Our sighted counterparts have been
known to sue when these warnings are not provided. All we're asking for are a
few audible and tactile cues to help us travel more independently and safely.