By James Hazard and Kathy Zelaya
Orientation and Mobility Specialists, the instructors who train visually impaired individuals to use the white cane, cross streets and ride the busses offer suggestions to motorists regarding how to help the blind pedestrian.
If you thought that a person who is blind just picked up a cane one day and went for ride on the bus… that's not quite the way it happened. Cane users can spend more 60 hours of "walking the streets", learning to refine their skills. Those of us who provide this training spend all day, everyday in traffic with our students. We have plenty of opportunities to observe the motorists who, due to lack of knowledge, "test" our students for us. We know that drivers have the best intentions and with a little knowledge, they can be of great assistance. Therefore, we offer:
THE TOP TEN LIST OF WHAT MOTORISTS SHOULD NOT DO WHEN THEY SEE A PEDESTRIAN WHO IS BVISUALLY IMPAIRED OR BLIND
10. Don't stop your car more than five feet from the crosswalk line. You may think that you are allowing plenty of room for the pedestrian to cross, but the truth is that you are probably confusing them. Don't be shy. Pull right up to the line and allow them to use the sound of your engine as a guide for walking a straight path across the street.
9. Don't call out "It's O.K. to cross". The motorist may not have considered all the factors before giving the "all clear". For example, you stopped your car but the person passing you in the next lane may not. The pedestrian who is blind listens to all the traffic sounds before deciding to cross.
8. Don't engage the visually impaired traveler in conversation. Even if you know them. It requires skill and concentration to cross the intersection and a "good morning" or "how're ya doin'?" may distract them. Be sociable, of course, just wait until they have crossed the street.
7. Don't wait too long for the pedestrian who is blind to cross the street. The sound of an idling engine "waiting" at the intersection puts pressure on the blind people to cross the street when they are not ready. It will soon become evident that they aren't going to cross and we suggest that you "creep" slowly through the crossing. If the cane traveler takes a step back and pulls in the cane, that's a definite "go" for the motorist.
6. Avoid split-second stops at stop signs. They are confusing to those who are dependent on traffic sounds. Often, motorists stop briefly at crosswalks noting they have time to pass before the pedestrian reaches that side of the street. Failing to wait for pedestrians is dangerous and if you come to complete stop, you could even provide some assistance with the sound of your car's engine. Come to a full stop and allow the blind pedestrian to cross in front of you.
5. Don't turn right on red. In an ideal world that would be true. In this world, however, statistics show that the right-turner is involved in frequent vehicle/pedestrian accidents. And, no wonder! The motorist is viewing to the left, focused on turning into traffic and hasn't looked at anything else since passing the mid-block point. Often, the turn is made without ever checking the nearest corner, which is particularly dangerous for a blind individual who cannot see the turning traffic. Our advice is to take it easy on the right turns and try to remind yourself to check the intersection before turning.
4. Don't fail to stop for pedestrians at crosswalks without stop signs. Just a reminder. To ensure the safety of all pedestrians always come to a full stop when a pedestrian is anywhere in the crosswalk.
3. Don't stop in the middle of the crosswalk! That forces the blind pedestrian to go around your car and often into traffic in order to cross the street. Also, the sound of the engine in the crosswalk may deceive the pedestrian into thinking they have veered out of the crosswalk. Try stopping directly by the line.
2. Don't block the sidewalk at driveways. Creative parking solutions often create problems for the cane traveler. In this particular case, a path around the front or back of the car must be chosen, with no guarantees on outcome. Going around the front of the car is best, but may not be possible. For example, when the offending car is parked directly behind another car in the driveway and there is no room to pass between them. The fact that they can't get through is discovered only after the attempt. Going around the back of the car may put them into traffic and they are "fumigated" by the exhaust if the car is running.
AND NOW! Number One, and our personal favorite, on the Top Ten List of What Not To Do When you see a Blind Person …
1. Do not HONK! Try this, go outside and stand on the corner with your eyes closed (NO PEEKING!). When you hear a car horn, do you know if it's for you? Or, totally unrelated to you? Blind pedestrians don't know either. Honking at the blind pedestrian let them know they can cross usually results in scaring the heck out of them. If you're patient and follow these suggestions, they will get across the street…honest!
When you see a blind traveler crossing the street, you are seeing the result of many months, possibly years, of training and hard work. The ability to use the white cane and have the confidence to make good decisions requires constant effort, even for the most skilled traveler. You, the motorist, can be of great assistance in that effort and their teachers are grateful for your help.
[Copyright (C) 1998, James Hazard and Kathy Zelaya. Reprinted with permission from James Hazard