What Makes the Community Accessible for Persons with Visual Impairment?
A Better Community for All…
To assist persons who are blind and visually impaired in their ability to better integrate into activities of society at large, many reasonable accommodations facilitate greater access. These accommodations also serve to increase the quality of life for ALL persons in the community, especially children, the elderly, and those recovering from a temporary illness. Below are listed some of the most important considerations.
- Employment Access – Employment is the key to empowerment. Persons with visual impairments are a treasure of loyal, productive, capable, talented, qualified, and dedicated workers. Hire them and see! More: http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/blindness.html
- Safe Pedestrian Access – Since blind persons are often more likely to use public transit and travel further distances as pedestrians, access to public transportation venues and reasonably safe walkways should be a priority. Accessible Pedestrian Signals (APS) allow audible (and sometimes tactile button) access to visual traffic signal “walk” signs. “Talking Signals” offer an essential element to safety in accompaniment to white cane and guide dog travel. More: http://www.acb.org/pedestrian/index.html http://projectaction.easterseals.com/site/DocServer/04APS.pdf
- Print Access – Printed signs, pamphlets, booklets, menus and other documents create a diverse set of access needs for persons with low vision. Offering choices in alternative formats (braille, large print, electronic media, etc.) is essential for access to printed materials.
- Technology Access – Technologies with visual displays need to provide alternative (audible and tactile) means of presenting information and receiving input. Examples include Automated Teller Machines (ATMs), kiosks, and computers. When public access to a computer is provided, the computer should include the software necessary for a person with a visual impairment to enlarge the screen. It should also include “screen reading” capability for totally blind individuals. More: http://www.afb.org/aw/main.asp also: http://www.coataccess.org/
- Visual Media Access – Audio Description (AD) is the descriptive narration of key visual elements of live theatre, television, movies, and other media to enhance their enjoyment by people who are blind or have low vision. AD is the insertion of audio explanations and descriptions. More: http://adinternational.org
- Building Access – Building design features can go a long way towards solving problems created by architectural barriers. Four key areas of consideration include: easy-to-navigate outside and inside walkways, lighting, contrasting colors, and accessible signage. More: http://www.lighthouse.org/aboutus/lighthouse-headquarters/a-model-of-accessible-design
- People Access – Relating to blind persons as “equals” is very achievable and essential in crating an atmosphere of dignity and respect for diversity in the community. Learning sighted guide techniques and accurate verbal communication help to diffuse apprehension, mistrust and other barriers of personal relationship. Be yourself, relax, and speak directly to a blind person in a normal tone of voice, not being afraid to ask if he needs help and not forcing help upon him. Ask if he is aware of peculiarities/dangers) in the surroundings, don’t rearrange personal items, and announce when you are leaving his presence.
If you have any questions or know someone who needs assistance, please call PA Council of the Blind (PCB) at 717-920-9999
The pedestrian environment has become more hazardous for the safe travel of all Pennsylvanians. For those Pennsylvanians who are blind or visually impaired who travel with a white cane or with a dog guide, it can be even more hazardous. In recent years new traffic patterns, controlled by underground sensors, change signaling at intersections to accommodate the heavier traffic flow. These new traffic patterns have made it very difficult for the pedestrian, sighted or blind, to predict the amount of time allowed for crossing. Multiple street intersections with complex pedestrian island configurations, turning signal arrows that allow vehicles to cross in front or in back of moving pedestrians, signaling devices that are difficult to locate, turning right on red, and quiet hybrid cars have made pedestrian travel hazardous for all pedestrians. Additionally, fewer sidewalks are being constructed, and in many areas sidewalks are left to crumble and fall into disrepair. If a community deems it important for safety to install visual WALK – DON’T WALK signals at an intersection for sighted pedestrians, then pedestrians who are blind should have the same consideration for safety as all other members of that community. Audible tones can provide the same walk – don’t’ walk signals for persons who are blind.
”Quiet” cars (hybrid cars) are a threat to any distracted pedestrian, to a slow moving elderly person, or to a mother with young children, and even more to any blind pedestrian. The sound of car motors alerts a blind person to the presence and movement of cars on the street, or in a parking lot or driveway. Hybrid vehicles lacking an audible aspect are a clear and present danger. ACB and PCB are actively encouraging legislators to require the addition of an audible aspect to hybrid cars.
Accessible Pedestrian Signals
Accessible Pedestrian Signals (APS) allow all people, including blind persons, to cross streets safely. An audible tone is emitted to indicate street intersection signal changes. The tone indicates the same changes that sighted people recognize with the lighted WALK/DON’T WALK signal. Newer APS are designed to adjust their volume to environmental noise. Newer models of APS emit a soft locating tone to identify the APS tactile button location at the corner. After pushing the button, an audible signal will indicate that it is safe to cross. For the deaf-blind, the tactile push plates vibrate when it is clear to cross.
Currently, the United States is one of the only countries in the world that does not have paper currency that is distinguishable to the blind. Many countries use different sized bills, but there also are other solutions. The united States Treasury recently lost a lawsuit brought by the American Council of the Blind for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Treasury is now required to make all bills, except the one dollar bill, accessible tactily. The only exception is the currently redesigned 100 dollar bill which the Treasury unknowingly has already made tactily identifiable through the use of glass chips in the paper as another counterfeit protection. The Treasury has not yet decided how to make bills tactily identifiable, but they have hired a consulting firm to look into different methods and costs involved, and the opinion of the blind community through surveys. Over the next decade or so, the ever growing blind and visually impaired community will have made one more step to true independence through the use of accessible money.
Freedom Through Orientation and Mobility
Orientation and Mobility (O&M) is the engine that drives independence for a visually impaired person. Instructors of O&M transfer skills to their clients that open up most of the world for adventure. These instructors first teach mobility skills, that is, the ability to walk down the hall or sidewalk and stairs and remain safe. It also includes using doors, busses, and crossing streets. As the student becomes better at walking safely, the O&M instructor introduces orientation awareness. Orientation awareness is an understanding of where a person is, where she wants to go, how to get there and how to get back. Mastering orientation and mobility takes a lot of time and practice. Only through the patience and guidance of the O&M instructor is this made possible. Unfortunately, there is a vast shortage of O&M instructors and people often have to wait months and years before they can get the needed training. We hope that more of our youth will seek a career as an O&M instructor who provides so many of us with the skills needed to be independent.
Come Join Us at a State or National Convention
The PCB and ACB Conventions are very exciting and stimulating. These are two of the very few events that we can participate where almost everyone is blind or visually impaired. We meet and share ideas about virtually everything that may affect our life and independence. We have a super environment to learn from our peers. Information is exchanged, friendships are made, and there are so many activities open for your participation. This is an ideal time for learning and experiencing life without barriers.
Equal Access to Information
The 21st Century Communication and Video Accessibility Act now being considered by congress is a far reaching endeavor to make all communications and related equipment accessible to the blind and visually impaired. There are many different aspects to this legislation which are described in the following paragraphs.
When the television emits a distinctive beep beep beep, followed by a pause and another beep beep beep, we may know that this is an emergency announcement. However a person who is visually impaired can not read the emergency message scrolling across the bottom of the TV screen. Emergency messages like that need to be made audible so that the risk to the visually impaired is minimized. In addition, on the weather channel they play music while the local forecast is shown in print on the screen.
Another aspect of this legislation is to provide accessible programming controls for the visually impaired. Sighted people who get cable or direct TV service can use the menus and on-demand features available with the remote control. The blind and visually impaired community has no access to these features. This legislation will require optional auditory capabilities of the menu features so that we all have equal access to all of the programming on the TV. Those who do not want to hear the audio do not need to turn it on.
As we switched over to the digital broadcasting signal, access to the few descriptive video programs previously provided was lost. The legislation is looking to require a minimum number of hours of described programming per week. “Described programming” and “descriptive videos” means that during pauses between the dialog (in the TV show or movie) a narrator’s voice will describe the actions, scenery, costumes, or any feature relevant to the viewer. Closed captioning and sign language on TV and videos are already available for the hearing impaired. The visually impaired community is asking for equal access to the programming.
Additionally, access to technology, like telephones is being pursued. Currently we must pay a premium for phones and software that allow us to use the cell phone functions that others can see on the screen. Making devices audibly and tactilely accessible is greatly needed.
White Cane and Dog Guide
Every day people who are blind or visually impaired travel independently to work, church, school, the grocery store, and their leisure interests. They accomplish these daily endeavors through the use of mobility tools just as a person who cannot walk might use a wheelchair. People who are blind primarily use either a white cane or a dog guide to travel independently. Which tool works best depends on the individual’s abilities, preferences, and lifestyle.
The white cane is usually the first mobility device introduced to a person losing vision. He is taught to extend the cane in front of the center of his body and move it side to side, covering an ark of space approximately two steps ahead. This motion insures that the path is clear. If the cane bumps an obstacle, then the traveler has enough opportunity to go around it. A successful cane user learns to use those encountered obstacles as a way to become more familiar with their environment (i.e. the trash can is near the corner, the mailbox is half-way down the block, or the public telephones are right next to the elevator). The cane also indicates changes in the grounds texture and drop offs at curbs and stairs. Many people travel independently their entire lives using a white cane while others choose to eventually use a dog guide.
Anyone interested in using a dog guide must attend specialized training for 4-6 weeks at a dog guide school. The traveler holds onto the guide harness worn by the dog. The handlers then interpret the dog’s cues by the movement of the harness. Dog guides lead travelers around obstacles and up and down steps. Dog guides are also trained to disobey when the traveler gives a command that places the team in a dangerous situation like moving traffic or a construction zone. It is vital that dog guides not be distracted while on duty. Regardless of whether a blind person chooses to use a dog guide or a white cane, he can be fully independent in his travels.