& Articles : Solutions
and Dissolution : Designing for the Visually Impaired
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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
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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.