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Solutions and Dissolution:
Designing for the Visually Impaired

By Rebecca Johnson

The Daily Commute
It is 4:00 p.m. at the Industries of the Blind in Greensboro, N.C. and the 125 employees--70 of whom are visually impaired-- pour out of the doors, talking and laughing.

"Who's out here looking at me? Is it the FBI? The police?" jokes one man as he finds his way to a waiting van outside with the aid of a white cane.

"Shoot, no one wants to look at you!" comes the teasing retort from a fellow worker, as she piles into another van. A small fleet of buses and vans, some of them driven by family members, some by the city's paratransit vehicles, greets the workers just outside the door of the building. At the end of the block, a crossing guard signals traffic on Lee Street, a busy stretch of road that runs from the Interstate through downtown Greensboro and along the city's most developed strip of hotels, shopping and restaurants. Most of the workers at the Industries of the Blind choose, for their own various reasons, not to brave this piece of road on foot. Charles German is one exception.

As the vans pull away from the curb, the older gentleman whips out his own white cane and hangs a left, setting out for home, which is three blocks away. After completely losing his sight due to complications from a truck driving accident in 1962, German, an assembler at the factory, learned to live and ambulate independently.

"Charles is one of the few workers who commutes on foot," says Annette Clinard, Personnel Administrator. "And believe me, we just hold our breath every day as we watch him cross that intersection."

The intersection Clinard refers to is a T-crossing linking Lee Street to another heavily trafficked part of town---the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Although a sign warns motorists not to turn right on red, few obey the rule, making German's crossing a real gamble.

"Do you know they don't pay that sign any mind? Back when I could see, I remember that the driving book said when somebody's walking in the road to give them the right of way. Is it still like that?" he asks plaintively. Obviously his experience has been to the contrary. "It takes a lot of nerve to get out in that!" he says, gesturing toward the crosswalk, but smiles as he listens for stalling traffic.

next page:  German takes it all in stride

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