Accessibility advocates are finding that some tools for the blind community can be hindrances to those with mobility issues.
In the summer, the City of Victoria installed truncated domes into the sidewalks at the intersection of Blanshard and Fort streets.
The metal bumps which lead into the crosswalk are designed to provide people who are blind or partially-sighted a tactile confirmation of their location, and the direction they need to walk in. However, for people using wheelchairs or who have trouble walking, the bumps can be a disturbance.
“I avoid the rumble strips as much as possible. They activate spasms in my legs which cause my feet to slip off the foot plate. This is especially concerning when entering a crosswalk as I have to stop to pull my feet back up. It is already a race to get across before the light changes,” said Wendy Cox, executive director at the Victoria Disability Resource Centre, in an email.
“Even worse is if I’m carrying something on my lap (often it’s lunch) as it will slide or bounce off when rolling over the truncated domes. It’s tricky trying to steer a wheelchair with both hands and trying to save lunch from falling off your lap at the same time and trying to avoid running into other pedestrians, especially those who aren’t paying attention to their surroundings.”
Cox said the worst corner is the south-west curb, which is steep and doesn’t run smoothly into the roadway, and that many people in walkers or chairs have trouble with it.
For the blind community, the bumps are helpful, but not the only solution.
“For example, if there was something more sandy, like shingles on a roof, or rubbery that your cane can feel versus the trump dome effect,” said Gina Huylenbroeck, disability educator at the Victoria Disability Resource Centre. “Eighty-five per cent of people who are blind that have vision use a cane, and most have varying degrees of vision loss… so maybe if they were painted a bright color they could find the curb too.”
Huylenbroeck is legally blind and added she hadn’t been aware that the bumps were a problem for people with mobility issues until Cox brought it up, but noted that she herself had experienced problems with them when they were wet and slippery.
The domes were installed as part of a pilot project in Victoria, said Philip Bellefontaine, City of Victoria assistant director, transportation, but similar bumps have been in use across the world for over 30 years.
“The choice of sites were discussed with the Accessibility Working Group… the devices have value for people who are blind or partially sited,” Bellefontaine said. “Feedback from users in wheelchairs is important to hear… but what we’re piloting here in Victoria is not new.”
Bellefontaine said that several other spots in the downtown core will see the domes installed in the coming months as part of the pilot project before more reviews take place.