|October 28, 2002|
By now, you are, no doubt, shaking your heads at the tremendous split within the blindness community about the use of APSs. If my understanding is correct, your guidelines would require their use only where pedestrians actually have "Walk" and "Don't Walk" signals. If that is true, then the argument made by some that traffic cues provide sufficient information is seriously in error, except in cases where the traveler is familiar with a particular intersection. Picture a blind man approaching an unfamiliar crossing. He stops at the curb and hears cars whizzing by in front of him. Then, suddenly, nothing for about a minute. The next thing he hears are two cars pausing beside him, then zipping around the corner. My point? As you probably know but may be questioning by now, we blind travelers do gather most of our crossing information via traffic patterns. However, this method is most useful where signals consist of simple green and red lights. When cars are moving in front of me, I know they have a green light, and, therefore, I must have a red light. Similarly, at stop signs, we can simply listen for the absence of traffic or for cars waiting near the intersection. "Walk" signals, however, produce a whole different kind of challenge. In downtown Pittsburgh, for instance, I may, within a few blocks, find several different types of signals, making it risky to trust my overloaded memory after a long day of work. One signal might behave much like the usual traffic light, thus allowing me to go with my parallel traffic. Another shows "Walk" when all trafic stops, making my usual crossing with the traffic a dangerous game of chicken against turning cars. Still another is patiently waiting for me to push a button I have forgotten is there. I just might have a long walk home from work!
Remember how you yourselves cross the street -- stop, look, and listen. In other words, you use as many cues as you can to keep you out of harm's way. Thus, in the long run, combinations of vibrotactile and audible signal information would surely be most useful. Personally, I like the idea of talking signs, since this would eliminate distractions for those choosing not to use the APS and for the general public, while allowing the individual to have detailed, spoken and/or tactile information at the desired volume. Receivers could be made available at libraries, agencies for the blind, or certain government offices, perhaps for a nominal fee, with partial support coming from public sources. Whatever type of APS you choose, there will surely be some drawbacks. Please do not allow the shouting about the dangers of old-fashioned and, perhaps, distracting signals to persuade you that APSs should be abandoned altogether. This only means that, as is the case with all technology, research and improvements should be encouraged. Meanwhile, let's make the best APSs available today standard equipment at all those pedestrian signals that are puzzles to so many of us today. Sidewalk smoothness and detectable warnings: One way to provide guidelines leading to smoother sidewalks for people using wheelchairs might be to require that certain types of concrete or other smooth surfaces be used in any new construction. You might also take the preliminary step of disallowing certain surfaces, such as brick. As for detectable warnings, I think they are very helpful in all places where a sidewalk gently slopes into the street. Please remember that there are blind wheelchair users, some using guide dogs and, thus, having very little sense of the slope beneath them. Contrary to popular belief, those dogs don't automatically know where the street is or when to cross it. They simply try not to run in front of moving cars. In conclusion, I wish to thank you for your detailed consideration of how to make the pedestrian environment safer and more accessible for all pedestrians, including those of us with all types of disabilities. This is an incredibly complex task but one that I believe we can and must accomplish.
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