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Transportation Enhancements: A Crutch or an Aid?
More sensitive and potentially controversial concerns that crop up when designing for visually impaired pedestrians have to do with political issues and awareness. Certainly blindness, color blindness and visual impairments are largely misunderstood. This misunderstanding is unfortunately often reflected in inconsistent design.

As social worker Dottie Neal notes, "We really need more standardized training. Good mobility instruction and how the instruction can teach you to make one situation work in other situations. We also need much better driver awareness. People just don't know what that white cane means. People don't know what blindness is about. They may look at me, walking around here and then see me with a cane one day and say oh she doesn't need a cane. They may think I'm lying. Blindness is not a black and white situation. There are so many shades of gray."

One controversial view held by the National Federation of the Blind, an outspoken association representing a smaller percentage of the visually impaired, suggests that transportation enhancements may give off the impression that visually impaired persons are helpless.

Lois Thibault counters: "I think it's a spurious issue and I think people who suggest that are doing a disservice to the visually impaired. It's important that everyone have equal access to the same information."

But some visually impaired advocates like Dottie Neal subscribe to this view vehemently. "If people have to think about installing those things [pedestrian enhancements] in a general public then what do they think about installing it in a workplace? How much money do they think they have to spend if they get a visually impaired or otherwise handicapped person to work? It's not, I think, portraying a good image for the work situation for a disabled person. They make the image of a visually impaired person be more dependent and needy, if you will."

Transportation specialist Barbara McMillen disagrees, saying, "That way of thinking is held by a small minority. First of all, people need to have some sort of information to get across. Secondly, these facilities can be funded by almost every federal highway agency through ISTEA. It is a general misconception that federal funds are not there. The truth is that there is generally only a 20% match required of local organizations."

Representatives of the research, professional, and the blind community are no more likely to come to a consensus on these issues than any other pedestrian group. Designing for the visually impaired introduces complicated and weighty issues. Engineers and planners these days have a lot more to grapple with than in the postwar years when highway development simply meant more and better roads for cars and drivers.

But until our roadways are safe for both motorists and all types of pedestrians, emphasizes LoisThibault: "Nothing is more important than providing the information you need to step off a sidewalk with confidence. I think we're asking a lot of blind and visually impaired pedestrians to go out and risk their lives every day."



The Accessible Design for the Blind's report on Accessible Pedestrian Signals.

The Access Board regularly provides training sessions on mobility. A set of training videotapes suitable for independent use is also available on loan. Contact Peggy Greenwell, Training Coordinator at the Office of Technical and Information Services or by e-mail at training@access-board.gov.

designing for pedestrians with disabilities

designing for sensory disabilities
"...another widespread category, ranging from those with colorblindness to the totally blind."

designing for cognitive and developmental disabilities
Find out how the needs of the cognitively and developmentally disabled are just as varied as their population.

designing for mobility disabilities
Those with mobility disabilities aren't just people using crutches or wheelchairs.

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