October 28, 2002
Dear Access Board,
I am writing to register my strong objection to portions of the Notice of
Proposed Rulemaking published by the Access Board concerning public rights of
way. My objections relate to two provisions of the proposed rule regarding
access for blind persons.
Before mentioning my specific objections, I want first to set the scene within
which those objections are placed. I am a sighted person and have now worked
alongside a blind co-worker for six years. Prior to taking this job, I didn't
think much about blind people. I mean, they weren't an issue, weren't a topic of
cogitation for me. To the extent I ever thought about them, I suppose I figured
they needed lots of extra help and had a hard time. Since taking this job, I
have found out how wrong I was. In my observation of my blind co-worker and
other blind people, most of the problems of blind people are really caused by
misguided sighted people.
What I observe is blind people learning how to do the things we normally do with
sight another way. They call this their "alternative techniques," and I must say
that some of them are actually better than the way we sighted people do things.
Others work just as well and are different from the way a sighted person would
normally do things. Still others aren't quite as efficient but are nonetheless
safe and effective. In other words, as a blind friend of mine says: "If you
don't know how I'm going to do something, hide and watch!" Blind people who have
taken personal responsibility for their own lives figure things out. Always.
When do-gooders step in and try to help, they often mess things up.
Sometimes, do-gooders erase or blur the information my blind friends are used to
getting and using efficiently. Sometimes, do-gooders act offensively, trying to
insist on doing things for a blind person that that blind person and everyone
else can do for themselves. In other words, attitudes about blind people's
competence held by many sighted people are often the biggest problem in a blind
person's life. As another of my blind friends says: "I don't mind offers of
help. I just want people to take me seriously when I say NO! But, so often, the
offer of help is followed by the help being forced on me, and that's the
One other thing I have observed: Some blind people don't take responsibility for
their own lives. They want others to do everything for them. It even seems
sometimes that some blind people think the "sighted world" owes them anything
they want and should provide it regardless of cost and without ever mentioning
the reason. For example, I heard one blind person say that he was sort of shy
about his disability and wanted all sorts of environmental changes so he could
be secretly disabled. How offensive to my capable blind friends and to the
person who said that!
Blindness is not embarrassing or repulsive, but a person's attitude about
himself or herself can make the blindness a problem it otherwise wouldn't be.
And, failing to take responsibility and insisting that someone else has to "fix"
the world for the blind person when the blind person can perfectly well "fix"
himself or herself with a little personal responsibility is offensive to me.
I pay taxes. I work. So do many blind people I know. It's offensive to me and to
them for someone to claim that our tax dollars should be spent to make fixes in
the environment that are unnecessary because the individual seeking the change
isn't taking personal responsibility or wants to hide his or her disability.
In that light, I find the proposed rules requiring wholesale installation of
accessible pedestrian signals and truncated domes offensive. They are
unnecessary in the huge majority of instances where the traffic pattern and the
intersection topography give a blind person sufficient information to stop,
discern the traffic pattern, and cross safely.
I find it equally offensive to say that, because sighted persons have walk-don't
walk signals, there should always be a signal accessible to the blind right
there as well. The existing signal produces information readily accessible to
the blind in most instances. What's not accessible?
The blind person can hear the traffic and the pattern. It's as obvious to him or
her as the lighted sign is to a sighted person.
Likewise, it's offensive to say that most intersections cannot be found by blind
persons unless bumpy strips are laid down before the corner. Most intersections
are obvious now because the curb is left for most of it and because the ramp is
obvious to a blind person walking down it.
There are probably some very complex intersections and some poured-flat
intersections that could use the extra information not otherwise readily
available to blind persons. Why not spend the extra time to figure out what
these are and require installation of these devices or modifications only there?
It's much less expensive, and it recognizes the ability of blind persons.
On behalf of my blind and sighted friends who take seriously the responsibility
to care for themselves, I find the proposed rule offensive for blind persons.
It's like saying that, despite all the efforts at rehabilitation and taking of
personal responsibility, blind people are helpless and always will be unless the
Great Kindly Parent in Washington requires re-building of the world to take care
of them. That's offensive, and it's also expensive. We have national priorities
far more important than sinking millions and millions into unnecessary changes
at intersections. If you want to spend more money on blind persons, why not
require that all books have to be in Braille? That's one simple suggestion, and
there are plenty more. But pretending that intersections without these changes
are all looming hazards for the blind and then swiftly switching to a claim of
civil rights to justify the expenditure (that is, ANY expenditure) is merely
another version of that old do-gooder behavior that holds blind persons back.
Please don't waste my tax dollars. Please don't insult the blind by finalizing
this rule. Please don't pretend that old-time do-gooderism is really modern
civil rights. Instead, take back the rule, think more carefully, and come up
with a rule that addresses the few but real intersections that are truly a
challenge for the blind. Then, instead of creating yet more barriers for my
blind friends with do-gooderism, you will be recognizing their true worth and
respecting their tax dollars along with my own.