White Cane Award given to promote safe crossings

Crossing a busy intersection can be difficult for people who are able-bodied and can see oncoming traffic. For people with visual impairments, crossing a street can be a matter of life or death. That’s why Accessible Pedestrian Signal or APS technology is so important. In October the American Council of the Blind of Minnesota (ACBM) honored the City of St. Paul with the inaugural White Cane Award. The organization hopes to present the award each year to a Minnesota community or private business that provides outstanding service to blind, deaf/blind and visually impaired Minnesotans. Among Minnesota cities, St. Paul is believed to rank at or near the top in terms of APS technology usage.

“It’s a huge safety issue,” said Janet Dickelman, a St. Paul resident who is president of the American Council of the Blind of Minnesota. “When you’re blind, you’re trained to listen for traffic so that you know when it is safe to cross.” But high volumes of traffic in some areas, coupled with right turns allowed on red lights, can make it all but impossible to cross safely. Dickelman said there are intersections where traffic volumes are so high, she and others who are blind or visually impaired don’t know when to cross the street. “Even when you have a dog guide, as I do, the dog is supposed to take you across the street on your command,” she said. But at some street crossings she wouldn’t even be able to indicate to the dog that it is safe to cross.

ACBM members presented the award to St. Paul Public Works staff and representatives of Mayor Chris Cole-man’s office Oct.15. St. Paul Deputy Mayor Ann Mulhol-land and Public Works Director, Rich Lallier received the award on behalf of the city. “It is an honor to accept this award on behalf of St. Paul. We will continue make our city more walkable for people with visual impairments, ensuring a quality of life for all residents,” Mulholland said.

“We are honored that ACBM has recognized our city’s efforts and selected us for their first ever White Cane Award,” said Lallier. “We will continue to add more Accessible Pedestrian Signals into the future.”

St. Paul received the award because the city has installed 14 APS devices throughout the city and hopes to install many more. The city, working with Metropolitan Council, plans to have the devices installed along the planned Central Corridor light rail transit line. The line will start running in 2014.

The signals have tactile arrows which when pressed, speak the street name and verbalize different commands for the pedestrian depending on the status of the signal. The signals emit a beeping sound to inform the person where an APS is located. Dickelman said she believes St. Paul has more APS devices than any other Minnesota city.

“I don’t know what I’d do without the APS,” said Dickelman. “I live in St. Paul so I’m thrilled that our organization can let the city know how appreciative we are for their attention to the safety of pedestrians like myself!”

Dickelman said she has used APS in other cities and was pleased to see the devices recently installed in St. Paul.
“We’d definitely like to honor more cities as well as private businesses for their efforts in serving our community,” said Dickelman. She believes there will be more demand for the devices. “As our population ages, one in four people will experience some kind of vision loss,” Dickelman said. “This APS technology is definitely something more and more people will need.”

White Cane Safety Day is a national observance in the United States, celebrated on Oct. 15 of each year since 1964. Then-President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the bill that created the special day. The date is set aside to celebrate the achievements of people who are blind or visually impaired and the important symbol of blindness and tool of independence, the white cane.

Inspired by National White Cane Day, the award is the first in what will become an annual event, recognizing public agencies and businesses for their work in enhancing the lives of those blind, deaf/blind, or visually impaired.
ACBM is a non-profit membership organization of persons who are blind, deaf/blind, or visually impaired, which promotes equal access, equal opportunity, full participation and independent living and economic self-sufficiency for its members. ACBM is an affiliate of its parent organization, the American Council of the Blind, a national non-profit.