I posted a couple weeks ago about a traffic signal for the blind that informed blind pedestrians that “the walk sign is on,” which struck me as weird considering the visual nature of the walk sign. Rachel commented that the reason for the choice of wording was probably legal:
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.
I replied that
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.
Having done a little more research, I realize that I mischaracterized the purpose of the signal – it’s not to let people know when to walk, it’s more to let them know when they’re not allowed to walk. If anything, the walk signal is there to tell pedestrians when they’re not going to be in contravention of the law by crossing the street, not that there is any implication of safety in the walk sign being on. This concept is enshrined in the Burnaby Street and Traffic Bylaw 1961, section 5:
Every person shall obey the instructions, regulations or prohibitions contained in or upon any traffic control device erected or placed under the provisions of the Motor Vehicle Act or of this bylaw.
Fortunately this revelation doesn’t change my original assertion, that it’s weird for the auditory signal to refer to the visual signal in order to inform blind people that they’re permitted to walk. I still believe that alternative wording like “pedestrians are now permitted to walk” would be preferable, and would also indemnify the city from any legal repercussions.
It also doesn’t change my secondary assertion, that blind people are out of luck when it comes to electric vehicles and bikes. That’s why the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians recently recommended that the Chair of the Traffic Safety Committee in Burnaby ask Transport Canada to require some kind of non-intrusive noisemaker be attached to all hybrid and electric vehicles, presumably so blind people wouldn’t have to rely on walk signals to cross the road safely. As for how invested blind pedestrians are in the perceived safety of the walk signal, I would have to talk to some blind pedestrians directly.