What are all these new yellow bumps on every street corner?

Orientation...

Mobility...

Orientation and mobility...

O&M...

These are some of the most commonly heard terms in the blind community. But what exactly do they mean? What's it all about?

"Orientation and Mobility" refers to sets of skills learned by blind people. Specifically, orientation is establishing one's position relative to important objects in one's environment. Mobility is the ability to navigate efficiently from one's current position in the environment to one's desired position. A simple definition is: orientation is knowing where you are--and mobility is the ability to get where you want to go. These skills, O&M, are the most important things for a blind person to master if they want to become independent and self-sufficient.

Schools for the blind and rehabilitation centers all have O&M specialists on staff. These are people who are specially trained to teach blind people how to know where they are and how to get to where they want to go. This is more complicated than it sounds, because each blind individual has his or her own individual abilities, needs, and desires. A simple example: some people choose to use the white cane, which requires that a person learn certain techniques; other people decide to go with a guide dog-- a totally different set of techniques. Another variable is the types of environments the person is going to be navigating through. Getting around downtown New York City is very different from getting around Uncle Bernie's farm in Iowa. Actually, any major city is going to have its own unique environment, and Uncle Bernie's farm is not necessarily going to be the same as his neighbor's. The point is: the set of skills needed to safely get from place to place is very complex, and a specialist is needed to teach these skills.

Information on the Web:

Madison Metropolitan School District. This site has a lot of generally useful information as well. http://www.madison.k12.wi.us/vi /tsom.htm.

It seems like every time we turn around there's a new curb ramp with all kinds of yellow, red or white bumps on them. Do they do something? Is this part of that chirping noise we hear at intersections? They weren't there yesterday, now they're everywhere. what ARE they?

A frequently asked question among the general public, and one that provides ample room for any number of responses. No, they're not part of the chirping crosswalks, they're called detectable warnings and are literally Braille for your feet, for blind and visually impaired people. It seems that the ADA back some years ago, through various studies and acceptance of some results from other countries having some success with myriad edge protection from hazardous vehicular ways found that among all known surface textures detectable underfoot, detectable warnings (truncated domes), about as wide as a quarter and twice as tall, spaced in accord with new federal guidelines, gave blind and visually impaired persons a detectable surface that was distinctly unique from all other textures, giving them the same confidence in maneuvering around in the public areas such as sidewalks and crossing areas, as STOP signs and red lights do for people with sight.

For several years the federal government did an excellent job debating the correct size, shape and texture of these warnings, and by 2001 everyone had come to a consensus on the what, where and how issue. Because of this, prior to 2001, blind people didn't have a STOP sign like sighted people do and by virtue they weren't privy to the same protection mechanisms that others take for granted every day. That meant many didn't feel safe, or even mildly comfortable going for a leisurely walk even in their own neighborhood, buying an ice cream cone, going to the park to hear others laughing, or just walking around in a thunderstorm to feel something as simple as the pelt of raindrops on their face. Sighted people take all these things for granted.

What about the cost? This is just another expense that we all have to bear isn't it? Everyone has the right to safely cross streets and to be safe when waiting on a street corner. Think of a mentally challenged child who will never be able to anticipate every possible outcome of the simplest decision to cross a street safely because it would just overwhelm them, yet now we can tell this same person 'when you come to an intersection, look for the colored ramp. that's a safe area to wait for cars to pass by'. For those people it's a bargain, and it's now a federal mandate.

Naturally the argument runs into the obvious; why do blind people need a bright yellow ramp? At first glance it does seem odd, but keep in mind that these laws were designed to provide protection for blind and visually impaired, those with limited sight as well as no sight at all. Consider that the bulk of accidents between pedestrians and drivers aren't because the pedestrian made a judgment error either in timing or in fact, but rather, because the driver was on their phone, thinking of a meeting this morning, picking up the kids, or any number of things that we all go through every day and just plain didn't see the pedestrian. That's when trouble starts. Anything we can do to make these pedestrian areas and by virtue the pedestrians, blind or otherwise, more visible to everyone, help to make the world a safer place.

Sidewalk Accessibility Videos

A series of videos by the Access Board on sidewalk accessibility, previously available on DVD, can now be viewed through the Board's website. Accessible Sidewalks is a four-part video developed by the Board to illustrate issues and considerations in the design of sidewalks. The series covers access for pedestrians with mobility impairments, including those who use wheelchairs, and pedestrians who are blind or have low vision. The videos are open captioned and incorporate running descriptive audio.

Click this link to visit the Accessible Sidewalks video page of the Access Board website.

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