A TEAM Effort
By Annie Chiappetta
On April 29th, the Accessible Pedestrian Signal Coalition (APSC) of Westchester www.westchestersafestreets.org/ staged a blindness awareness demonstration on the street corner of our County office building. The purpose was to increase awareness about APS as well as increase the installations of these sorely needed devices across Westchester County. We invited legislators, blindness related agencies and independent living centers, State and County public transportation reps, engineers, city managers and municipality reps and blindfolded them, put a white cane in their hand, and with a short lesson from an orientation and mobility instructor, asked participants to cross the street with the accessible signal to assist them. The certified orientation and mobility instructor from the Lighthouse Guild did a great job of helping these folks understand the sensory skills needed to navigate streets safely without the benefit of vision but with the assistance of an APS.
We were pleased when the local news media reporters came and also took part in the blindfold crossing. One of them said, “It’s terrifying,” and the other person was struck of how dangerous it is without the APS helping her tell when it was safe to cross. One person mentioned how disoriented he was and couldn’t tell if he was going straight or not. There were many of our coalition members who put on the blindfold and grabbed the white cane to show support, and this was heartwarming. It was also the reason for the demonstration.
How did this begin??
Our coalition began because requesting an APS anywhere in Westchester is not only sorely needed but also a daunting endeavor — from finding out which jurisdiction the intersection falls under, to getting the attention of the officials in charge of installing and funding an APS. For instance, if the APS does not intersect a State road or corridor, the State Dot concedes to the municipality is responsible. This adds a level of bureaucracy to requesting the APS and the advocacy efforts must increase on the behalf of the person(s or population who will benefit from the installation. There is a saying, what helps folks with disabilities helps all of us. Think of the curb cuts and ramps that replaced curbs for people traveling in wheelchairs. Those ramps help everybody. What about the large print, tactile elevator buttons? An accessible signal will not only assist people with visual limitations but also help anyone crossing the street by ensuring a full array of visual and auditory information is offered. It takes an average of 2 years to install just one set of APS at an intersection in Westchester, and that is a quick turnaround. We hope to shorten the process with our advocacy efforts. It is also estimated that a four-way intersection outfitted with APS is $3000.00. There are simply not enough APS in Westchester and many of them are clustered and not spread throughout busy pedestrian corridors. We hope to improve on this and many other inconsistencies now that the coalition is active. We started our push and we will continue to push until APS are the norm, not the exception in our streets throughout Westchester.
If you want to find out more about APSC Westchester, go to www.westchestersafestreets.org