I read several articles a year about various dangers the blind face, lack of beeping street lights, other pedestrians, no sidewalk warnings (the raised dots on the sidewalk found at street corners), skateboarders, you name it, I’ve probably read an article about it.
I agree that such things as bicyclists and pedestrians mixing could become a bad combination, but I also believe this has little or nothing to do with blindness; it’s a risk for anyone. Every day we all, sighted or blind, take a calculated risk of leaving our homes and doing something.
Whether we walk, drive, ride a bike, take the bus, whatever it is, there’s a risk involved.
While I do understand the importance of safety, I also have learned some things in the last five or so years since using a cane; the most important is safety is primarily my responsibility. I think with the proper training my world is just as safe for me, as a blind person, as anyone else.
I have learned that the best way for me to live my life is to learn the proper skills to adapt to my environment, not have my environment adapt to me.
One of the best examples of this I can think of is audible signals at lighted intersections. This is the little beep or chirp or whatever sound is selected at the intersection that tells pedestrians when it’s safe to cross the street. I’m not aware we have any here in Ruston, but I won’t be asking for them anytime soon either.
These signals are often found in bigger cities and can actually be helpful for a variety of pedestrians who use them. However, as a blind person who likes to get around independently, I’ve found my time is better spent learning the skills I need to cross a street safely than advocating for a beeping signal that, in my opinion, is not necessary.
As a blind person, I use cues from my natural environment every day. I use traffic patterns to line up at intersections and then cross them, for me a beeping signal of when it’s safe to cross is not helpful. If anything the beeping noise blocks out my most important sound cue, traffic.
Now while I say I am not going to be asking the City of Ruston for audible signals any time soon, I also understand that for some pedestrians they are valuable.
Many of my fellow colleagues in the blindness field focus so much research, resources and time on safety-related issues for the blind that they miss the whole part about giving us proper training and preparing us for our environment.
Several cane travel instructors in this country, who are mostly not blind themselves, make ridiculous suggestions about our safety as blind people: Carry a giant orange flag, wear a bright reflective vest, carry our own stop sign, wear little lights all over our body. I might as well wrap myself in bubble wrap before I head out; these ideas are crazy and unnecessary.
I believe blind people, given the proper tools for success, can travel around an un-adapted environment like everyone else. If we want equality in the world, we have to learn to adapt to the world and not expect it to adapt to us. I’m not against adding things to increase safety for those who really need it; I know it’s important for some.
Louisiana Tech is no less safe than any other university in the world. Thousands of pedestrians travel across college campuses every day. Many have encounters with bicyclists. It’s the way it is.
Blind people have the same responsibility and opportunity as everyone else, and we need to do our part and accept the things that come with being independent.
Deja M. Powell is programs manager at the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University and a 2008 alumna of the Louisiana Center for the Blind in Ruston. She writes a monthly column for the Daily Leader.