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The missing sound – part two

March 22, 2008

Photo by: fa73

Since I wrote the first post about The missing sound, I have got an e-mail response from Sara Jane Friend McDonald, who is specialist in Orientation & Mobility at the MAB-Mackay Rehabilitation Centre. She gives a lot of good and interesting answers to my wonder about how blind people cross the street. I wonder what the thoughts are about using the “bibbing sound” in Denmark – perhaps it is not necessary to use it as much as we do in Denmark.

Me: “I noticed the other day standing at a traffic light next to a blind person that in Montreal (and perhaps in all of Canada) there is no bibbing sound indicating when you can and can’t cross the road (as there is in Denmark).”

MAB: There is in fact what we call “Audible pedestrian signals” installed at many intersections in Montreal as well as many other cities in Canada. They may not be noticeable to the general public as some models require a special activation in order for them to work. There is an audible pedestrian signal located in front of the MAB-Mackay at 7000 rue Sherbrooke o. for example.

Me: “I read on your webpage that blind people use their dog to figure out when they can cross the street. But why do you not use sound to indicate when you can and can’t cross, so you shouldn’t be dependent of a dog?”

MAB: It is often perceived by the general public that it is the dog guide that is in charge that makes the decision as to when to cross the street. That is NOT true. I am not sure how you received that impression from our website. A dog guide is trained to follow verbal commands from their master, avoid obstacles, stop at stairs or curbs and follow sidewalks, etc. A dog guide is a dog first and dogs do not have the intelligence to be able to understand traffic controls, understand an audible pedestrian signal, nor can they plan routes nor know what bus to take.

So what is actually happening when a dog guide user is crossing the street is; the person is listening to the traffic, analyzing the traffic pattern or waiting to hear the audible pedestrian signal. When the person decides it is safe to cross they then give the dog guide the command “forward” to start crossing the street. While crossing the street, the person is continuing to listen to the flow of traffic to make sure they are crossing in a straight line and the dog guide is going where the person wants to go. The person using the dog guide is in 100% control the entire time.

Me: “Is it a political decision not to use sound?”

MAB: For years Orientation & Mobility Specialists from vision rehabilitation centres in Montreal, users from the RAAMM (Regroupement des aveugles et amblyopes du Montréal métropolitain) and Engineers from the city have been working together to install audible pedestrian signals throughout Montreal. Not all intersections require an audible pedestrian signal as people who are blind and visually impaired are able to analyze traffic flow by listening to the cars and know when it is safe to cross the street.

Audible pedestrian signals are also very expensive and require sometimes a complete rewiring of an intersection. They also need to be installed exactly the right way, which can be difficult and time consuming.

It is also important to point out that Quebec is the only Province or Territory in Canada to directly fund vision rehabilitation services to a general population and all age groups, from infants all the way to senior citizens. The number of vision rehabilitation specialists that work in Quebec surpasses by far the numbers in the rest of Canada.

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