John A. Gardner
|October 6, 2002|
I am not sure whether I will be providing any telephone input to the Access Board meeting to be held in Portland on October 8, so I'd like to share my thoughts in writing. My understanding is that the board is seeking public comment on various way-finding surfaces for blind pedestrians. I am a totally blind cane-user who is familiar with three such devices
1. the truncated domes that are currently being used in several places around the US 2. linear strips used in some European train stations to mark the center of the platform and 3.the linear strips developed by Kevin Stockton.
As a physicist, I feel that it is virtually impossible for any way-finding surface to be always readily apparent to blind cane users without being a serious trip hazard for all pedestrians and a major impediment for wheelchairs. Since nobody in good conscience could propose way-finding devices that help blind people and trip others and/or upset wheelchairs, the board should assume that any cane user must be actively looking for the way-finding surfaces in order to make use of them. Consequently, I do not believe that it is possible for any way-finding surface to be an effective danger warning for the unwary. However it is certainly possible for way-finding surfaces to be extremely helpful to blind pedestrians who know that way-finding surfaces are deployed and stay alert so they can use these surfaces for useful travel information.
I have encountered truncated domes in Portland and a few other times in my travels but noticed them only when a companion pointed out I'd just walked over such a surface. Frankly I hadn't noticed that they weren't just a rough place in the sidewalk. On closer examination I really didn't like the things. They are a trip hazard, some are slippery when wet, and all seem to pose a hazard for wheelchairs. And the domes tell me nothing except that whoever put them down thought I needed to be aware of something ahead. They obviously did not accomplish that purpose for me.
Oregon State University recently put down some of Kevin Stockton's way-finding devices, and I have tried them several times. I do know they are there so when I search for them with my cane I find them. Unlike the truncated domes, they give me information - either a line to trail through a difficult area or as markers for street corners, bus stops, etc.
The long linear way-finder strip that I encountered in a Dutch train station was useful, although it was high enough that it seemed to be at least a possible trip hazard and a nuisance for people in wheelchairs or who are pushing a luggage trolley. I had been told in advance that the strip was there, so I found it and was able to trail along it until I reached the front of the platform where my hosts greeted me. My opinion is that the current Kevin Stockton strips are almost as good for cane trailing and pose a lesser hazard for pedestrians and wheeled vehicles, because the sides of the Stockton strips are slanted instead of having a perpendicular edge. Although I can detect the Stockton way finding strips fairly easily, my preference would be for a slightly sharper edge. I am told that a next generation with a 45 degree edge will soon be tested. I think this newer design will be even easier for cane identification while posing negligible additional hazard for pedestrians, wheelchairs, or other wheeled devices.
In interest of full disclosure, you should know that I have served as an advisor for Kevin Stockton but that I have received no compensation. I have no financial interest in his company.
John A. Gardner, President and CEO
ViewPlus Technologies, Inc.
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