|October 28, 2002|
Features within the pedestrian travel path designed for blind and low-vision travelers are put there intentionally to make such travel safer and to require less expended effort toward successfully reaching an intended destination. Such assistance comes in four major areas: danger, decision, detection and direction. The remainder of this message considers each in turn.
Travel path dangers take the form of drop-offs steep enough to injure upon impact, as well as those that then put a pedestrian in the way of a subway or other railbed vehicle that can neither turn aside to avoid striking the fallen pedestrian nor stop to avoid accident and injury. The function of detectable warnings is to provide a tactile indicator that travel in a given direction should go no further in that self-same direction to avoid such potential for injury. While a highly trained long-cane or dog-guide traveler operating always and everywhere at peak alertness and efficiency might conceivably never, ever need the assistance of such tactile warnings to avoid these extreme danger situations, this hypothetical model does not conform to the day-to-day human condition. Fatigue, preoccupation, stress, overconfidence, or just plain inattentiveness may result in a single, unfortunate moment of travel too far in a direction that launches the traveler into the path of a train or subway. If the installation of such tactile warnings, in addition to color-contrast warnings to give low-vision travelers the self-same information can save the life of one traveler--inattentive for whatever reason--then such installed warnings are worth whatever it takes or costs to provide them.
Decision in travel involves knowing when to cross--and not to cross--a given roadway intersectionh. No person on this planet with full possession of all mental faculties would seriously suggest in a speech, a letter or an e-mail message that we should stop providing such information to sighted travelers, as they constantly cross each other's travel paths, while traveling east and west, north and south. Blind people should have equal potential access to this self-same information, if they want it. Were all travel accomplished during high- volume pedestrian- and vehicular-traffic hours, it might, perhaps, always and everywhere be potentially possible to tell when to cross a street--or, at a minimum, at least when not to cross. Unfortunately, blind and low-vision pedestrians, just as with their sighted counterparts, can and do travel at all hours of the day or night, including when traffic volumes are low or even nonexistent. When a single, lone car drives through an intersection after a long, long period of absolutely no traffic in any direction passes near a blind or low-vision pedestrian, there is no safe, accurate way on God's green earth for such a pedestrian to accurately evaluate whether their is a walk light currently on in any travel direction or even if the lone car may, in fact, be "running the light." Such a determination in a low-volume or no-volume traffic situation would require the gift of prophecy--not merely keen hearing--on the part of a given nonvisual traveler. Thus, for traveling swing-shift and so-called graveyard-shift workers, nonvisually accessible pedestrian signals are a must, even if such signals might not be necessary at the self-same intersection at noon or during morning and evening rush-hour periods, when sufficient traffic volume obtains to make nonvisual street crossings safe and successful.
Detection in the travel path involves knowing nonvisually when protruding items that routinely go undetected when conventional cane-travel techniques are employed exist in the travel path. Signs and portable billboards represent such potentially undetectable items in the nonvisual pedestrian's travel path. It is recommended by the American Foundation for the Blind and other advocacy groups for blind and low-vision people that these items protruding in the travel path have a board or other identifying object in the travel path that a long-cane traveler can detect with a cane and move to avoid.
Direction, in combination with danger, involves knowing when to leave a particular location, as well as indicating the best route to safety. At its most recent national convention in Houston, Texas this past summer, a British-based sound beacon system specially designed to aid the human brain to intuitively know which is the safest travel path away from fire or other life- threatening danger was demonstrated to the American Council of the Blind. I strongly recommend that the Access Board consider regulations requiring the installation of such audible safe-travel-path indication systems to aid both sighted and blind travelers, alike, in getting to safety and exiting life-threatening locations alive!
In a free country such as ours, there must be a built-in element of choice, insofar as is possible, that allows people to choose, or to not choose to use a particular installed travel aid, especially when that aid is new and first being made more generally available. Thus, particularly with regard to so-called accessible pedestrian signals, they should be configured to be operable in a visual-only mode, as well as a traveler- selectable auditory mode.
Thus, a short walk-button push might activate the visual walk/wait indicators. Alternatively, a longer push of the same button might activate the complementing auditory indicators. Thus, if a blind traveler elected not to receive such auditory information or if an orientation and mobility specialist teaching either a young blind person or a newly blinded adult to travel elected not to use such auditory information, when teaching said new traveler to "read" existing vehicular traffic patterns, alone, to assess when to safely cross a street, that would be possible with eas by design in the signals various operation configurations: either visual, or visual plus auditory with vibro-tactile information, aiding the deaf-blind traveler, as well.
I hope that the Access Board will continue to pioneer in the promulgation of regulations that extend the ease of travel for desirous blind and low-vision travelers, as well as deaf-blind travelers, to an ever-wider range of travel paths, containing more and more nonvisually accessible elements. In specialized situations, such as mid-block light rail platforms, even tactile indicators, such as Corvallis, Oregon-based Blind Signs may be installed nonvisual travel aids that most nonvisual travelers can agree to the utility of. I appreciate this post-eleventh-hour opportunity to advocate for current and potential improvements in the travel path for nonvisual travelers.
Independent Long-cane Traveler
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