SDOT Learns How Deaf-Blind Pedestrians Get Around

We had the chance to learn more about how deaf-blind pedestrians use sidewalks, street crossings, and public transit to get around the city thanks to The Lighthouse for the Blind, Inc. David Miller, an Orientation & Mobility Specialist with The Lighthouse, extended an invitation to observe how deaf-blind pedestrians navigate the public pedestrian ways and transit systems.

First, we met with David and John Romish. John is deaf-blind due to Usher syndrome and does not understand spoken language. His vision has been severely impacted due to retinitis pigmentosa; John has less than 10 degrees of remaining vision of what normally would be 180 degrees. John and David are able to communicate using the sense of touch through Tactile American Sign Language (TASL), where information is passed using gestures and motions between their hands.

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John Romish crosses the street on Capitol Hill with his guide dog.

John relies on his guide dog to help him find curb ramps and street crossings. His limited vision may allow John to identify the surge of traffic when a signal turns green, letting him know it is time to make the crossing parallel to the moving vehicles.  When riding the Streetcar from Rainier Valley to Capitol Hill, John needs to sit close to the doors of the vehicle so he may see or feel the doors open and close to help him count stops and to determine his location. John also has learned to identify landmarks along transit routes where a hill or a turn along a route helps him keep track of his location.

Next, we met David and Alberto Gonzales at the Mount Baker LINK station. Alberto lost all of his vision from Rubella many years ago and is Deaf. Again, David and Alberto are able to communicate using TASL. Alberto also uses a guide dog, a long white cane to help with wayfinding and detection, and a tool called a Miniguide. Alberto demonstrated his ability to find the “welcome mat” in the LINK tunnel, which is a textured surface on the floor that indicates where train stops and the LINK doors open. When Alberto has located this welcome mat, he uses the Miniguide to help him understand when the train arrives. When Alberto activates his Miniguide, a vibration will be emitted when there is an obstruction within a set distance from the front of the device. As he holds the button before the train arrives, there is no vibration. The vibration commences when the train begins to pass in front of him, and then stops when the doors to the vehicle open.

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Alberto Gonzales awaits the LINK using his mini-guide.

These meetings highlighted the importance of curb ramp and signal crossing push button placement for deaf-blind pedestrians, designs need to be consistent so they’re predictable. The pedestrian push buttons have a tactile vibration feature that inform Alberto when it is appropriate to cross the street. These accessible pedestrian signals (APS) are very important to pedestrians like John and Alberto, allowing individuals with limited/no vision or hearing to interpret safe crossing times.

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David Miller observes as Alberto Gonzales locates the pedestrian pushbutton.

SDOT is looking for opportunities to strengthen relations with individuals and communities of people that live with disabilities in Seattle and the surrounding region. It is important that we understand the abilities and needs of all pedestrians.

If you have any questions about accessibility within the Seattle public right-of-way, we encourage you contact SDOT’s ADA Coordinator, Michael Shaw. He can be reached at (206) 615-1974 or by email at Michael.Shaw@seattle.gov.