|Nancy Johnson||September 9, 2002|
I've been blind since birth. I'm an independent traveler in my community as
well as an occasional traveler to other parts of the country. My most recent
journeys away from home were trips from Topeka, Kansas to
Washington, D.C. and to Houston, Texas. Both of these major cities were totally unfamiliar to me.
I traveled to Washington with a visually impaired friend who has more vision than I and some experience with Washington's Subway system. I experienced subway travel for the first time. Without his assistance, I would have been lost. I cannot read signs, identify vehicles, or locate customer assistance areas. I would have been at the mercy of other travelers. That is as it has been throughout my life. When I go to unfamiliar places, I must ask whomever I can find for instructions. The information I receive is not always reliable.
In Houston, I was able to cross a busy intersection independently because an
accessible pedestrian signal had been placed at the corner. This gave me the
freedom to come and go between the convention hotel and the overflow hotel at
will. Also available at the convention were talking signs that allowed people to
locate the vendors' booths of their choice without having to ask each vendor
whom they represented.
New traffic plans are making it more and more difficult to navigate busy areas as a pedestrian. The most recent development of which i'm aware are the round-abouts. Traffic travels round and round a circle and cars apparently enter and leave without making the traffic stop. These are extremely difficult for a blind pedestrian. My hearing is good, and I have the intelligence, training and skill to travel independently. Every day someone in our country loses their sight. They must give up their cars, and they are frightened of traveling in busy areas as pedestrians. Blind people can - have - been traveling by attending to the movement of traffic for generations. Unless we know where the pole is to press a pedestrian signal, we can't use it. There are more and more cars on the road, and traffic patterns are changing. The right
turn on red is a hazzard we have had to learn to manage.
The technology now exists to eliminate the dangers and fears involved with
being a blind pedestrian. Individuals using wheel chairs have curb cuts to make
crossings accessible to them. (These made life more difficult for blind
pedestrians.) We need accessible pedestrian signals and detectable
warnings so we can safely cross busy intersections. Why should I be limited in where I can go as a pedestrian simply because I don't have the same safety information that everyone else has? Before the
technology existed, we had no choice. All intersections should be accessible to us. We should know where the edge of the street begins so we don't accidentally walk into traffic. And we should know where the signal post is and when the pedestrian signal is in our favor. We should be able to identify instantly when we are as near as is safe to a subway track. It would be extremely helpful to be able to locate ticket booths and customer service areas. Some have suggested braille signage. Not every blind
person knows braille. Those of us who do can't read the braille sign if we can't locate it.
Admittedly, this kind of accessibility is expensive. (Are curb cuts not
expensive?) And can we put a dollar price on any life lost because the victim
didn't have the necessary information to keep safe? Without
detectable warnings and accessible pedestrian signals, that's the direction we will go.
Thank you for considering my concerns.
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