Arizona

Essay: How Drivers Can Help Those of Us Who Are Walking Blind

Clayton Jacobs crossing Alma School Road at Southern Avenue in Mesa.
Clayton Jacobs crossing Alma School Road at Southern Avenue in Mesa. Tom Carlson

In January 2007, I was crossing from the southeast corner of Horne and Southern Avenue in Mesa when I was struck by a woman driving a minivan. I never saw what hit me. I am blind.

After the collision, the driver wanted to leave, but one of people who witnessed the accident told her she couldn’t go until police officers questioned her.

When the officers arrived, the woman admitted that she attempted to drive around me when I was crossing the street.

Since I had the right of way, which was corroborated by the witnesses, the police issued a citation to the driver.

I had bruising, but no other traces of injuries, despite nearly being thrown backward by the impact. And for days, I suffered pain in my joints, neck, back, and arms.

Like all blind pedestrians, I need you to be careful when you see someone like me crossing the street.

We may have different levels of acuity, but all of us have limited sight.

I am a seasoned cane traveler who was trained by professionals known as orientation and mobility specialists, but I am nevertheless anxious when I walk past or into parking lots, cross streets, or encounter road construction that forces me into oncoming traffic, because the construction zones block off sidewalks as well.

My expertise does not negate the unpredictability of the following aspects of navigating while blind:
  • Topographical changes in sidewalks, including, but not limited to curves, sudden drop-offs, slopes, slants, whether a sidewalk exists, and construction
  • Overgrown vegetation, signs, poles, and other debris
  • Topographical changes in areas where gravel is present, such as dips, holes, and massive rock piles
  • Variables in the types of intersections and traffic control signals
  • The behaviors of others, including drivers, cyclists, and skateboard riders
click to enlarge Clayton Jacobs - TOM CARLSON
Clayton Jacobs
Tom Carlson

Typically, we cross streets when the traffic is moving parallel to us.

However, this rule does not always apply.

The sound of surges of traffic is different, depending on if we are crossing clockwise or counterclockwise.

Because turning traffic can sound similar to parallel traffic, we have to make sure that the movement is continuously parallel throughout the intersection.

There are many things you can do as a driver to help us, such as:
  • Wait to turn right on red until we clear the intersection.
  • Keep the crosswalk open when the light is green for us.
  • If the light turns green for you, and pedestrians are still crossing, wait for them to clear the intersection.
  • When entering driveways or parking lots, enter from the farthest position from any pedestrian and control your speed, allowing us to reach our destination.
  • If pedestrians who are blind appear lost, provide them with specific directions or other comparable assistance. Contrary to myth, we generally know directions and can help lost drivers as well.
We just ask that you make sure that your behaviors while driving ensure that we have a maximum opportunity to optimize our lives and the lives of others we influence.

Remember that blind lives matter, too.

Clayton Jacobs, also known by his stage name, Esoteric Quality, is an activist, musician, speaker, and writer. Send him a direct message on Twitter @EsotericQuality.


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