NYC to Install Signals for Blind Pedestrians

A street corner lamppost on New York’s Upper West Side. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

A federal judge ordered New York City to install a signal system at intersections to make crossing the street safer for blind New Yorkers, the New York Times reported.

On Monday, Judge Paul Engelmayer of the Southern District of New York criticized city officials for failing to protect the New Yorkers who qualify as blind or visually impaired, and ordered that the city’s 13,000 intersections be equipped with signal devices.

He additionally ordered that a federal monitor be appointed to oversee the installation of the signal devices, which use loud noises and vibrations to inform blind pedestrians when the light has changed and if they can cross. Most city street corners use familiar to pedestrians, such as flashing red hands or a little walking person. However, these visual signals are not accessible to the blind. Less than 4% of the city streets are currently equipped with a signal system for the blind.

Torie Atkinson, a lawyer for the American Council of the Blind, told the Times, “We can finally look forward to a day, not long from now, when all pedestrians will have safe access to city streets. We hope this decision is a wake-up call not just to New York City, but for every other transit agency in the country that’s been ignoring the needs of people with vision disabilities.”

Around 2.4% of New York residents have some form of vision disability.

The American Council of the Blind represented two visually impaired New York City residents, who in 2018 sued the Department of Transportation and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. In 2020, Engelmayer ruled in the plaintiff’s favor, saying the city had violated the rights of disabled residents by neglecting to make its streets safe for them.

Nick Paolucci, a spokesman for the city’s Law Department, said in a statement, “We are carefully evaluating the court’s plan to further the city’s progress in increasing
accessibility to people who are blind and visually impaired.”

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