On Navigating New York's Streets and Sidewalks
by AFB Staff
[Editor's Note: the following post comes in response to the recent New York Times article, "With Changes in New York's Streets, More Hurdles for the City's Blind Pedestrians" and is authored by Dan Aronoff. Dan is a licensed social worker (LMSW) currently looking for work helping people with disabilities. He also happens to be New York's premier blind food critic. Check out his blog at blindtastetest.net, and follow him on Twitter at @blindblog.]
Optimism is essential, in my opinion, for anyone living with a disability. Specifically for those of us who are blind or visually impaired, so many articles and stories in the media depict us in a negative light. Honestly, at times there is a grain of truth to these narratives; however, I'd rather focus on what we can do versus what we cannot do. I recently read the New York Times article "With Changes in New York's Streets, More Hurdles for the City's Blind Pedestrians." It depicts a shift in the geography, and therefore level of accessibility, of New York City in the recent years brought on by issues such as new pedestrian plazas, expansive construction projects, and the ever popular trend of creating bicycle lanes.
My feelings on the article are mixed. On one hand, I can relate to the problems which others have reported, and I have learned to develop strategies on an ongoing basis to make travel easier. Here is one such example: I continue to struggle with the ongoing MTA subway construction on Second Avenue, but what are our options for handling this situation? I assume that most of us who are blind would instinctively avoid this avenue unless it was absolutely necessary, or there was a store or restaurant we wanted to visit there. Being an adventurous New Yorker, however, and a user of public transportation since the age of nine, my approach is to courteously ask for assistance. This may not work the first time, but eventually you will reach your destination in an independent fashion! It should also be noted that the PASS Coalition is doing great work and the accessibility of this city̬for everyone— should be priority number one.
That said, while the Times article presents certain issues in an informative manner, it also offers several misconceptions. We don't "overcome" our visual impairment; rather, we find strategies and alternate techniques to improve our lives. Navigating a complicated urban environment such as New York City can be difficult, but with the more experience you gain, the more you learn. For example, I have traveled to all five boroughs using buses, subways, and even the Staten Island Ferry. It was not easy at first, but over time I adapted my skills and figured out the best ways to use these types of transportation. Although I don't personally count steps, I truly recognize the importance of landmarks such as finding planters and grates in the street to indicate where certain buildings and locations are. I find hybrid cars to be a growing presence and issue since they are so quiet, but they are still in the minority of all the vehicles we encounter. While an increase in accessible pedestrian signals would be a welcome change, they are not essential for blind pedestrians. People who are blind like myself are well aware of how to cross a street based on whether the sounds of cars are parallel or perpendicular to us.
Overall, I find New York to be the most accessible city, yet there is still a great deal to be accomplished to create an ideal situation. Perhaps it's the optimism talking, but I still have an enormous amount of hope for the future and I believe that the dialog generated from an article like this might be a good start.
Times Square photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
- Getting Around
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