|Scott Meyer, C.O.M.S.||July 8, 2002|
I am an Orientation & Mobility Instructor for the Texas Commission for the Blind's Criss Cole Rehabilitation Center, which is a residential center that serves over 200 blind people a year. I am "legally" blind. I frequently work with the City of Austin Transportation, Planning & Sustainability Department in their ADA Sidewalk & Curb Cut Program. I am also a member of the Mobility Impaired Service Advisory Committee (MISAC) to Austin Capital Metro (city bus system).
With all this, I work a lot on sidewalks and ramps. I have been asked to give comments on detectable warnings. I will also talk about some travel issues in general.
It is much better for the blind community to use the maximum slope possible, which is WAY more helpful then detectable warnings. Nonvisual travelers will notice slopes much easier then detectable warnings, which too often feel like broken sidewalk or the street. If we trained people to look for detectable warnings -- they would never get anywhere because too often they would think they were on detectable warnings (truncated domes). A steep enough slope can be recognized consistently without sacrificing efficiency in travel. Also, because of this, slopes are much safer. I do not recommend having any areas that are blended with the street. When a ramp does not have a slope, regardless if there is a detectable warning or not, it is difficult to avoid going into the street.
Of course, people with wheelchairs cannot have too steep of a slope. I certainly understand that. It is best to think about it like this. Wheelchair users need to make sure that a slope is not steeper then a certain degree. It is just as crucial for a blind person to make sure that at any area near a street that there is a slope that is as steep as allowed. In short, there should be a standard slope set at the maximum that wheelchair users cane handle under ADA at every corner. I know this will probably never become universal due to "right of way." But this is the ideal.
Ramps should also be level. This is beneficial for wheel chair users, anything on wheels, and blind people. When a ramp is built, a level should be used from the landing to the street to make sure it is level. This can also be used for better directionality.
Truncated domes at either sides of the driveway should only be considered when it is a very busy driveway. The bigger issue with driveways actually is the lack of a slope toward the street. It is very difficult when there is not a slope from the street to the sidewalk when crossing a driveway. When a driveway is blended with the street, it is easy to veer into the street, especially when there is not a lot of traffic.
I hope this was not too technical. If you have any questions -- PLEASE e-mail me back.
Overall, we teach our blind people to rely on hearing. We simply cannot trust anything tactual at corners anymore because it is too often that ramps are shared and aimed at the middle of an intersection instead of straight across. Or ramps are blended with the street. All we look for are curb cuts -- they are the most useful and are the best way to find where the street is located and of course we are hoping there is going to be a nice slope when we get close to the street. We use our hearing to make sure that we line-up for a straight crossing since few ramps are straight these days. But, again, if there is not a slope a lot of people end up in the street from time-to-time. If you are not blind and never had the experience. Walk in an unfamiliar area with a blindfold (with someone watching -- preferably an O&M Instructor) and you will see that detectable warnings are not usually recognized, but slopes are. Of course, if you are ever in my "neck of the woods." I would be happy to walk with you.
Scott Meyer, C.O.M.S.
Texas Commission for the Blind
Criss Cole Rehabilitation Center
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