Daniel B. Frye
|September 20, 2002|
Should you have questions or require any further information, please advise me at your earliest convenience. Specifically, if I need do anything further to secure recognition at the hearing in order to offer both oral and written testimony, please let me know.
Thank you in advance for your consideration of my thoughts on these issues.
Daniel B. Frye
September 19, 2002
I write in opposition to the ultimate adoption of many of the proposals articulated in the draft Public Rights-Of-Way guidelines published in June, 2002. While well intentioned, these standards promise only to negatively impact the ability of blind people to safely and comfortably traverse our nation’s sidewalks, streets, and other municipal accommodations. More significantly, these standards threaten to jeopardize the positive public image of blind people, created by the collective efforts of the blind themselves, in the eyes of potential employers and society in general. Upon reviewing my particular concerns below, please reconsider the adoption of these standards incorporating, instead, suggestions which offer practical and social enhancements for the benefit of blind Americans.
Blind people who have received basic training in the alternative techniques of blindness are usually able to comfortably and competently travel using the nation’s public facilities. Using a white cane or dog guide and by paying attention to appropriate non-visual environmental signals, blind people make their way through the world in route to work and play, taking care of their children or personal errands, and administering the diversity of obligations and tasks commonly associated with living full and successful lives. As a blind person, this is my daily practice, and it is the routine of most other blind people with whom I am acquainted.
We as blind people face sufficient challenges in our effort to secure acceptance and full integration into society. Addressing barriers such as common misconceptions about the capability of blind people to adequately perform in employment, concerns about the capacity of blind parents to provide safe and nurturing homes for their children, and the necessity to engage in an almost perpetual public education campaign promoting the inherent normalcy of blind people in virtually every aspect of daily living is the unsolicited obligation but determined priority of the organized blind community. These global objectives are easier to achieve in the absence of governmental mandates requiring substantial and expensive modification of the environment, ostensibly to afford access to blind people, where it is not absolutely essential. In other words, efforts to promote a positive social image of blind people are eroded and finite public goodwill is unjustifiably consumed when benevolent but misguided champions of this goal advocate the adoption of unnecessary and extreme accommodations. Most Accessible Pedestrian Signals (APS) and detectable warnings are but some examples of requests for accommodations that adversely influence attempts to inconspicuously immerse blind people into the larger society, but equally important is the fact that they are ineffectual in their stated practical purpose.
Accessible traffic signals should only be required and used in limited circumstances. Specifically, these devices are only appropriately installed at intersections where the traffic patterns fail to provide adequate feedback to the attentive blind traveler about the times when it is safe to cross the street, e.g. traffic roundabouts and other unique intersection configurations. APS should never be used for providing directional guidance, but instead should only be used to alert the blind traveler to the fact that it is safe to commence walking. Reliance on APS for directional guidance is an exceptionally hazardous practice. Ideally, APS, where installed at all, should be vibro-tactile and traveler-activated offering the advantage of mitigating the sounds that could mask accurate interpretations of traffic patterns by the blind user, making the marginal benefits of the devices available to those who identify a personal need for them by exercising the initiative to activate the APS, and by offering meaningful support to deaf-blind travelers who are unable to rely upon audible clues for determining when it is safe to cross the street.
Locator tones on poles equipped with APS are unnecessary. The proposal as currently drafted envisions the consistent placement of poles, and so supplemental audible support to find them seems excessive and intrusive. Moreover, there is the potential for at least eight emitting beepers at a single intersection inviting the possibility of clamor loud enough to rival the sounds of traffic and other social discourse. Finally, it is genuinely hard to imagine how any blind traveler could be terribly challenged to find a particular pole on the narrow confines of a street corner.
Detectable warnings offer minimal value in facilitating independent travel among blind people. The appropriate use of the cane or dog as a mobility aid should be sufficient to identify curbs, slopes, ledges, or other landmarks warranting attention. Such detectable warnings should only be considered if the slope of the curb ramp is 1-15 (one inch of rise or fall for every 15 inches of run or flatter). Slopes greater than this measurement are easily detectable and do not warrant further identification. Moreover, many varieties of detectable warnings represent tripping and slipping hazards, and are more trouble than they are worth.
In conclusion, I encourage members of the Access Board to temper their desire to render the environment usable and convenient with the commonsense values of safety and social responsibility. Proponents of the imprudent proposals currently under consideration will, no doubt, point to unfortunate pedestrian tragedies as a means of manipulating sentiment around the support of excessive environmental accommodations. I urge you not to be persuaded by falsely compelling anecdotes. The occasional death or injury of a blind pedestrian is the unfortunate byproduct of increasing opportunities for us to fully engage our world. As a consequence, we will, in relatively proportionate numbers to citizens with vision, die or be injured in regrettable pedestrian accidents. The best training in the world and an APS on every intersection will not prevent the occasional tragedy. Further, supporters of the draft guidelines will site an entitlement to “equal access” to public rights-of-way when campaigning for the adoption of these standards. While I believe that a civil society should have an ethical interest and even legal commitment to rendering inaccessible goods, services, and facilities usable by blind and other disabled people as a fundamental component of a progressive and mutually beneficial public policy, I believe that those seeking such institutional adaptations must exercise discipline and good judgment in their petitions for change so that the community inclination to offer aid will be ready and available when it is generally needed. In this instance, Blind travelers, as a rule, do not require the anticipated environmental modifications proposed in the draft guidelines in order to successfully move about the land. Thus, I invite the members of the Access Board to exhibit restraint and reserve in the implementation of authority in relation to these issues in expectation of the day when a matter of truly crucial access importance presents itself to the country for deliberation and action.
The divergent views expressed on this topic by members of the blind community are the product of genuine feeling and belief. I have respect for, if not concurrence in, the opinions offered by those who have come to different conclusions on these matters than my own. Nevertheless, I hope that the reasoned logic that bolsters my arguments, both socially and pragmatically, will resonate with Access Board members. Thank you for your thorough consideration of my perspective.
Daniel B. Frye
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