|September 18, 2002|
I am writing about a matter of great importance for my own personal safety and the safety of blind and visually impaired persons across the country. I will first address the importance of accessible traffic signals.
Here is an example of why such a signal is important to me. A major street in Austin, Texas which has a high traffic volume, right on red, and left turn lanes is Lamar Blvd. The only way this street can be safely negotiated by a person with dog guide or cane is with the availability of an accessible signal with locater tone for the button and a sound to indicate when the walk sign is on. This does not mean I take off as soon as I hear the sound indicating the walk sign is on. This alerts me to listen to the parallel traffic, use all my mobility skills and then command my dog guide forward. Those who argue against this type of signal are ignoring the advantages of this system not only to the blind population but also senior citizens, children, persons with cognitive disabilities who can benefit from more information at an intersection and the wide range of travel abilities of different persons whether they be blind or not. The position established 50 years ago that good training will cover all situations does not take into account the dramatic change in traffic volume and complexity of intersections compared with 50 years ago.
Accessible signals mean equal access to the information provided to the sighted traveler. Now I will address detectable warnings. I had recent experience in downtown Austin where I was placed in danger due to the lack of a detectable warning. I was traveling down the main street of the Capitol City of Texas (Congress Avenue). The sidewalk was blocked off by construction for a sky scraper. My dog took me out into the street to avoid the barrier as well as cars which were parked against the barrier putting us even more into the traffic. There was no curb to step off and strangely enough, there was also no traffic at the time to indicate we were in the street. A person tapped me on the shoulder, identified himself as an engineer for a street construction firm, and told me were in the street walking down the center of the street. If I had know we were in the street I could have given the dog the commands to return to the sidewalk as soon as we were around the barriers. This is both an example of an area of construction not clearly defined for safety, and the lack of information as to the change from walking in the right of way to traveling in the street. My error was not due to a lack of training as I returned with my new guide on June 20th of this year, but due to a lack of critical information which I could have used easily if provided to continue on my way in a safe manner.
I clearly remember my first experience with a curb ramp in 1975. I had taken a business trip from Denton, Texas to Dallas. I left the Trailways bus station and was walking toward the bus stop for Dallas transit to travel across town to my meeting. A person tapped me on the shoulder, identified himself as a police officer, and asked me if I knew I was in the middle of Elm street in down town Dallas. He informed me that there were curb ramps in Dallas. At that time no one had even thought about detectable warnings and dog guides had not yet been trained to stop at curb ramps. I thanked him for his help, was directed back to the sidewalk with excellent directions and went on my way. Without the officer's help I wouldn't have had a clue I was in the street until a close encounter with traffic.
Please forgive the long post. I value my safety and the safety of my Seeing Eye dog. I support in the strongest terms possible the regulations for accessible signals and detectable warnings and request they not be weakened in any way whatsoever. Equal usability of information complements travel skills and creates a safer society for us all.
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