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To ensure that the environment that blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted consumers travel through is accessible as possible, and that appropriate attention is paid to risks and dangers that are particular to our community.
Travelling in an urban environment as a blind, deaf-blind or partially sighted individual is a complex task. Some people do so with the aid of a white cane, while others might choose to work with a guide dog to assist them with their mobility. Architects, city planners, and service providers need to do more to consider and accommodate the needs of blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted travellers, regardless of the mobility aid they might or might not be using.
Perhaps the best way to understand the need for action is to consider some of these examples:
- When a person who is blind is attempting to cross a street, they must first align themselves to cross straight. The installation of wheelchair ramps (where the entire corner is rounded and angled toward the middle of an intersection) makes this very difficult to do, since there is often no straight edge to use as a guide. There are alternative constructions for making wheelchair-accessible crossings that do not cause this problem, but designers and builders need to consider them.
- Walking along a sidewalk that is cluttered with garbage cans, mailboxes, "sandwich board" advertisements, tables, chairs, and planters outside businesses can be a real challenge for a person who is blind. City ordinances requiring that a specified clear path be maintained along sidewalks can assist with this problem.
- Low-hanging protrudences (such as flower planters, signs, and lights) can be a serious safety hazard for someone who is blind. If the hazard is high enough that their white cane will not hit it, but low enough that their head (or body) might, then it is unlikely they will have any warning that it is coming. Avoiding or guarding (at ground level) such protrusions is essential.
- Travelling on a city bus can be problematic if bus stops are not being announced by the driver or an automated system. While passengers can ask the driver to announce a particular stop, drivers often become busy with other tasks and forget to let the blind traveller know when they have reached their stop. Since a blind traveller must typically learn each new route or area individually, simply getting off at a later stop and backtracking might or might not be a feasible option.
Working around these problems need not be a complex or expensive undertaking, particularly if these considerations are taken into account at the design phase.
Some possible solutions to the example problems were mentioned above, but more generally, greater awareness among city staff and elected representatives is needed. By being aware of the potential problems, designers, builders and planners can take these concerns into account early in the development process. Moreover, city planners can enact regulations to help create a more accessible (and less dangerous) environment.
- Consider the impact that obstacles and building design choices might have on blind, deaf-blind or partially sighted travellers.
- Speak with your local representatives to determine whether these concerns are taken into account. If they are not, advocate that they be given some consideration.