October 28, 2002
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the importance of audible pedestrian
signals and detectable warning strips.
As a member of the Board of Directors of the American Council of the Blind, as
Treasurer of the Kentucky Council of the Blind, and as a blind person who has
lived near and made use of audible signals for over 40 years, I wish to speak in
strong support of the proposed regulations.
I have used both a cane and a guide dog for mobility, and in both cases have
found the signals to be not only useful, but in some cases crucial, to my safe
crossing of certain streets.
There are many intersections which I cannot cross because there is no audible
signal on the traffic light. I am therefore denied access to shopping,
government agencies, financial institutions, groceries etc. because of this
barrier in my environment.
With the increasing number of cars that both run and idle very quietly, I am
finding myself to be more and more dependent on the signals in areas where once
I did not need them. Perhaps this is also due to the aging process; as we grow
older, our hearing, vision etc. becomes poorer. Just last Friday I was crossing
a street near my home and ran into a car in the intersection; I never heard the
motor at all, as there was a lot of street noise from passing vehicles,
lawnmowers, an airplane overhead and a chain saw in the distance.
As for detectable warning strips: There are curb cuts near my home, both with
and without wraning strips. Some individuals would have you believe that the
warning strips are themselves dangerous; this is quite frankly ridiculous. I
have fallen and severely sprained my ankle twice in the past two years. In both
instances, I fell on a curb cut that DID NOT have warning strips; without such
guides, I was not lined up appropriately with the curb cut - hence my fall.
The Access Board would never consider issuing regulations that would no longer
require ramps into buildings, curb cuts ffor people who cannot negotiate the
step, or bathrooms without wheelchair access. The Access Board has, on the other
hand, issued regulations requiring these very things, and much more, to make the
environment friendly to persons who cannot use the steps. Why, then, would we
even consider not requiring accommodations that make the environment a bit
friendlier for blind people?
Society is aging. Today, over 60 per cent of people with visual impairments are
over 55 years old. Many of these people have never had a vision problem. I
encounter such people every day, and they are often extremely reluctant to
venture outside their doors for fear of being involved in pedestrian accidents.
These newly-blinded persons will, in the vast majority of cases, not become
"super blind people", able to travel comfortably without any assistance.
The absence of audible signals and detectable warning strips will only serve to
make people just losing their vision more dependent on others.
In closing, I ask you to consider the following:
Street lights are in place to benefit both the sighted driver and the sighted
pedestrian. If this were not true, we would not need those "WALK" signs that are
so prevalent. If traffic lights are not needed, we have wasted a huge amount of
money on a frivolity.
Audible pedestrian signals and detectable warning strips are similar in nature
to the basic traffic lights that are so convenient for sighted people. They give
the blind and visually impaired the information they need to safely navigate the
environment. They are a reasonable accommodation, affording us the same
opportunity to receive the same information as our sighted peers.
Should I choose not to push the button, and thus not use the signal, or should I
choose not to use the curb cut with the detectable warnings but instead step off
the curb at another location, that is my choice. If I make the wrong choice, and
am injured, that is my fault. But if I don't have that choice, and thus do not
have access to the information I need to travel safely and competently, then
someone else has made that choice for me, and has thus controlled my well-being
in an unacceptable manner.
Site Selection Co-ordinator
American Council of the Blind