|October 27, 2002|
I am on the Board of Directors for the Bay State Council of the Blind in Massachusetts. As persons with disabilities seek greater independence, we notice hazards along the paths we travel. These include blended curbs and busy intersections that lack audible signals.
I have been blind since birth and I would say that the lack of detectable warnings and audible signals contributed to my decision to use guide dogs. Back in the 1970's when I was learning to travel independently, I was encouraged to listen to the traffic patterns in order to determine when it was safe to cross. This method worked fairly well for some intersections. But as I began to navigate wider and busier intersections, I would sometimes have doubts about when the walk light cycle had begun. I would wait a few extra seconds to make sure that the traffic had stopped. This meant that when I began to cross, I had less time to traverse the intersection. I noticed that some of the traffic lights in Watertown Massachusetts located in close proximity to the Perkins School for the blind had audible signals. I noticed right away that I felt more confident stepping out into the street when I knew exactly when the walk light cycle had begun. After all, those lights are there for a reason; They tell people who can see them when to cross the street or when to stop. This information can be conveyed to persons who cannot sea or hear via audible and vibro-tactile signals.
Now let's fast forward in time to the year 2002. Traffic patterns in many urban and suburban communities are much more complex than back in the 1970's. Right on red, traffic actuated signals and round abouts make it more difficult to determine when to cross by listening to the traffic. Moreover, the volume and speed of traffic make life even more interesting. Finally, today's more quietly running cars are not heard by the pedestrian until it is too late.
Therefore, it is more imperative now than ever before that visually and hearing impaired pedestrians have equal access to the important information that traffic lights provide. In my neighborhood, we have 3 audible signals. They are at very wide intersections of very busy streets. When they are not working, I tend to ask for assistance if it is available. Audible and vibro-tactile signals have definitely increased my independence and confidence while traveling.
I urge the Access Board to maintain the current regulations regarding audible traffic signals and detectable warnings at shallow curbs and hazardous environments such as the edges of subway and train platforms.
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