The walk sign is on

There’s an intersection near my house that’s fully outfitted for blind people. When it’s safe to walk, a recorded voice indicates to the pedestrian that “the walk sign is on.” This strikes me as kind of a bizarre choice of wording. Considering that the walk sign signifies that it is safe to walk, would it not make more sense for the voice to say “it is safe to walk” rather than referring to the sign that says the same thing? The weirdness is compounded by the fact that the walk sign is a visual signifier, something that blind people probably wouldn’t have much of a relationship with anyhow.

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2 responses to “The walk sign is on

  1. I was sharing this story with my dad and he pointed out that while it doesn´t entirely make sense to verbally refer to a visual signifier that a blind person wouldn´t have a relationship with, this issue may have more to do with legality.

    His suggestion is that the visual reference of a little green man, in the case of North America at least, is a signifier that it is time to walk, should you choose to do so, but that it doesn´t necessarily guarantee safety when crossing – cars do of course sometimes ignore red lights, so the pedestrian should still look both ways before starting to cross. Following from that he suggests that a voice saying “the walk sign is on” signifies that the person may cross at their own descretion (they should listen for traffic perhaps), and that if the voice said “it is safe to walk” there may be a chance of the city being sued by a blind person who was then hit by a car that ran a red light. However, I´m not sure what the legal issue is if a pedestrian who is not blind is hit by a car after crossing without looking both ways after the green man is lit up.

    Of course it is equally likely that when the intersection near your house was being outfitted for blind people, not much thought was put into how much relevence the visual walk sign may or may not have to blind people.

  2. mackereleconomics

    That’s a good point. But the idea of a blind person crossing at their own discretion is a little problematic for me. Whereas a sighted person can always revert to looking both ways before crossing the street, without any reference to the walk sign, a blind person doesn’t necessarily have that luxury, especially with the increasing prevalence of electric cars and bicycles on the roads. It seems to me that although the purpose of the walk sign for sighted people is more to organize traffic flow in order to minimize accidents, the purpose of the walk signal for blind people is to guarantee safety to some degree, because blind people rely on the walk signal to know when it’s safe to cross. How much they invest in that representation of safety is up to the individual, but a blind person’s use of the walk signal isn’t really analogous to a sighted person’s. I think a lawyer could make the argument that the walk signal for the blind, even the bleeping noises, is construed as conferring some degree of safety to blind people as they cross the street, otherwise they wouldn’t be necessary. A sighted person would refrain from walking into the street if a speeding Prius was bearing down on them, even if the walk sign was on, whereas a blind person might not.

    That said, I totally agree that the likelihood of anyone discussing these things before installing the light is pretty low.

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