[NFBWATLK] need help crossing the street

Mary ellen gabias at telus.net
Tue Sep 26 18:05:35 UTC 2017

Sometimes it's not the technology itself, but the way it's portrayed, that creates problems.  I remember when the building ramp was new technology.  People called them, and still call them, wheelchair ramps.

I, as a physically able young woman, was glad that those other people in wheelchairs had ramps so they could get into buildings.  I was glad for those other people, but it really had nothing to do with me, except when people assumed that I needed the ramp or elevator and could not use the stairs.  Then I became a Mom.  Suddenly I discovered how much easier it was to wheel my child's stroller up and down a ramp than to carry it up and down the stairs.  If ramps had been labeled "stroller ramps," or "grocery cart ramps," or "wheeled conveyance ramps," their true value would have been understood by more people earlier in their development.  Because they were portrayed as something "special" for people in wheelchairs, they were resisted and resented.

Really good design helps everyone.  There's no reason to sell the concept as a "special" design for people with disabilities, thereby implying that we could not cope before its invention or that only the minority benefit from it.

Take away the emphasis on blindness from this article and replace it with "pedestrian friendly technology enhancement," or some other words that sound less jargon laden, and it's easy to see how valuable this invention could be for any pedestrian.

When "talking books" were just for the blind, there weren't many of them.  Now that they're called "audio books" and are sold as a means for busy people to get information while driving or doing housework, there are hundreds of thousands of titles available.

I believe blind people need to continue to resist implications that it is the technology that makes us able to live in the world.  Technology certainly helps us, as it helps everyone, perhaps it helps us more, but certainly in unique ways.  It's our personal characteristics combined with the good will of others, technology, and a lot of other factors, that makes our lives work.

At least until new technology is ubiquitous, blind people need to retain the ability to get along without it.  Even though more and more print is available in an accessible electronic form, enough print is still unavailable to us directly that blind people must learn how to work effectively with a human reader.  Some day that skill may no longer be necessary, but any blind person without it still risks being caught out with no effective way to get information in some situations.

When my children were young, I detested the walk signs at intersections because my children looked at "the man walking" rather than paying attention to traffic.  I was glad for them to have the clarity of a sign that told everyone when pedestrians could walk; at the same time I wanted them to develop strong situational awareness so that they could react quickly if a driver ran the red light and put them in danger.  My philosophy as a parent/teacher always was to give them enough knowledge that they could manage if the top level easy systems malfunctioned in some way. 

If I had a piece of technology that could easily inform me of the status of all traffic lights and even lengthen the walk signal time, I'd go for it.  If I had a technology that could give me a more reliable way of telling how much time I had to cross at an unlighted intersection by informing me of where the traffic is and how long it will take to reach me, you bet I'd want that technology.  I'd consider it as an augmentation of my skills, just as I consider a GPS as an augmentation of my orientation skills.  I'd make very sure that I didn't lose my ability to make these judgments as I have in the past; technology breaks, after all, and anyone who's had a frustrating conversation with Siri knows the imperfections of artificial intelligence.

Human abilities are augmented by technology all the time.  We should embrace those possibilities without tolerating the destructive implications that often accompany publicity about "technology for the blind."  As for whether we need a new invention, each should be judged on its merits.  I have no need for a specially designed bathroom because I'm blind.  I'm more than pleased about new, more environmentally friendly bathroom designs, but I'll resist if I'm told that a better waste disposal system is particularly important to blind people because the flush is always in the same place.  (That would be mildly helpful, of course, but not worth a paragraph in a sensationalized news story.)

It's important for a deeper sense of confidence that blind people learn the power and the limits of our capacity without technology.  We need to do that perhaps more than others because our capacity is so often underestimated.  We can resist sensationalized publicity about ways in which technology can help us without resisting the technology itself.  I know I can get along without my iPhone.  That doesn't mean I would choose to do so.

-----Original Message-----
From: NFBWATLK [mailto:nfbwatlk-bounces at nfbnet.org] On Behalf Of Debby Phillips via NFBWATLK
Sent: Tuesday, September 26, 2017 9:49 AM
To: Becky Frankeberger via NFBWATLK
Cc: Debby Phillips
Subject: Re: [NFBWATLK] need help crossing the street

I know what the response of many people will be to this kind of technobogy. People will say that we don't need that, that people need to learn to cross streets without it, etc. I agree that that is true, but I believe it is important to consider other things. Blind people with other disabilities have other issues than just hearing the traffic and crossing when appropriate. I also think this technology could be of benefit to other people as well, people who have difficulty walking, elderly people who sometimes have balance issues, people with cognitive disabilities. This technology also could benefit parents with small children who are either walking or are in strollers. The children, I mean. LOL. It will be interesting to me to see how this project goes.    Debby

On Sep 26, 2017 8:42 AM, Becky Frankeberger via NFBWATLK <nfbwatlk at nfbnet.org> wrote:
> from http://www.post-gazette.com/business/tech-news/2017/09/25/CMU-device-blind-people-cross-the-street-smartphone/stories/201709240098
> Carnegie Mellon University developing smartphone system to help blind people cross the street
> Photo of Ed Blazina
> Ed Blazina
> Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
> eblazina at post-gazette.com <mailto:eblazina at post-gazette.com>
> 8:02 AM Sep 25, 2017
> Through their work at the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children, Mary Lynne Lorch and Molly Feinberg see how blind and physically disabled children can struggle with mobility, especially crossing the street.
> The traffic signals at Craig and Bayard streets near the school in Oakland have an audible signal that lets pedestrians know the light is about to change, they said, but the children they accompany often aren’t able to cross in the allotted time. That’s why the women, teachers of visually impaired/​certified orientation and mobility specialists, say they are looking forward to a new device under development at Carnegie Mellon University that should help.
> The university’s Robotics Institute announced last week it has received a $2 million Federal Highway Administration grant to develop a system that would allow smartphones to communicate with smart traffic signals and provide more time to people having difficulty crossing the street. The grant requires a $500,000 match, so the entire program costs $2.5 million.
> Stephen Smith, a professor of robotics at the institute, said the system is being developed to work with the 50 intersections in the East Liberty area that already have the Surtrac signals. The signals use sensors to detect when vehicles are approaching intersections and adjust the lights to move traffic efficiently.
> But the signals already are equipped to receive dedicated short range communications from radios that will be installed in cars over the next few years and can be used in a smartphone app to help pedestrians with disabilities, Mr. Smith said.
> Early next summer, Mr. Smith said, the system should be ready for a field test using signals on Baum Boulevard and Centre Avenue near the Carnegie Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. About 25 to 30 pedestrians with visual disabilities will be equipped with a sleeve for their smartphone that will transmit a radio signal that can extend a green light to provide more crossing time.
> In the second year of the program, researchers expect to install additional signals near the school for blind children on North Bellefield Avenue so the system can be tried there, too.
> Other possibilities to help blind and disabled people involve using the app to coordinate with transit buses to know when they arrive and pre-programming a regular route so that signals know when impaired pedestrians are coming and can adjust accordingly.
> “That sounds really cool. I can see that helping lot of people, including our children who often have blindness and other disabilities,” Ms. Lorch said.
> Ed Blazina: eblazina at post-gazette.com <mailto:eblazina at post-gazette.com> , 412-263-1470 or on Twitter @EdBlazina.
> First Published September 25, 2017, 7:30am
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