by Ron Brooks
(Editor’s Note: Ron Brooks is a long-time member of the ACB, chairman of the transportation committee and a 25-year veteran of the public transportation industry. Check out his transportation blog, Accessible Avenue, located at https://accessibleavenue.wordpress.com/.)
Transportation has always been one of the most vexing challenges facing people who are blind or visually impaired. In fact, when blind people are asked about the biggest challenges they face, transportation usually ranks first or second — just ahead of, or just behind, employment.
And is it any wonder? America is a big country, and despite the best efforts of many, the car is king! Cities, suburbs and towns are traversed by networks of wide and largely inaccessible roadways and streets. Sidewalks are often inadequate at best, and non-existent at worst. Everything from traffic laws to traffic management infrastructure favors the unimpeded movement of cars, trucks and buses, and pedestrians are often little more than an afterthought.
And what of the culture. Listen to almost any radio station or watch almost any sporting event on television. Every third commercial is for the latest and greatest cars, trucks and sport utility vehicles Detroit, the Germans, the Koreans and the Japanese have to offer. Finally, from the time they turn 16 years old, American teenagers are indoctrinated about one of the few rites of passage still alive in America — the right to drive.
So where does the American obsession for the car leave blind people? Well, that’s simple; it leaves us standing on the curb. And that curb is getting crowded. In addition to a growing number of millennials who are not as interested in driving as their parents were, there are a myriad of personal mobility devices littering the sidewalks, including electric scooters, bikes for rent, hoverboards and everything in between. For the most part, these devices are completely inaccessible to blind travelers. Worse, they block the sidewalks and make excellent tripping hazards.
But it is not all doom and gloom. There is good old-fashioned public transit and paratransit. To quote a 1970 Volkswagen ad, “It’s ugly but dependable.” But wait — there’s more. There is a growing number of rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft. There is an array of evolving transportation products, including microtransit, first and last mile transportation systems, community circulators, a growing number of streetcar, light rail and commuter rail services, and there are self-driving cars coming to a street near you.
So with all of these challenges and changes coming to the transportation environment, it seems like a good time to stop and take stock. What are the transportation-related challenges we face? What opportunities do we have to address them? How do we get our fellow ACB members, chapters and affiliates involved in helping us to solve these complex challenges?
At the 2019 ACB conference and convention, the organization adopted Resolution 2019-14 which, among other things, called on the ACB to develop a comprehensive advocacy platform regarding transportation for people who are blind or visually impaired. This effort will be led by ACB’s transportation committee and will involve many stakeholders, including ACB leaders and members, state and special-interest affiliates, and local chapters, to name a few. We will be conducting online dialogues, a workshop at our 2020 ACB conference and convention, topic-specific webinars, and perhaps other events — all with a single focus — to build an exciting vision for where transportation should take us in this country and the tools we can use to get there.
As for this edition of “The ACB Braille Forum?” It represents our first step on this exciting and important journey. So fasten your seatbelts, and let’s get going.