Tuesday, August 05, 2008

More on the hybrid car debate

Sighted people generally don't have an appreciation for the "politics" of blindness. As someone who has walked in that world, I know that this is an issue of great importance to a great many people in the visually impaired/blind world because groups that often disagree are united on this one. Even those in the community most loathe to ever request any alteration to the physical environment are behind doing something to make it safer for the visually impaired/blind and hybrid cars to safely co-habit the same streets. Here's another press release on the topic.

For Immediate Release

Dr. Ronald E. Milliman, Chair
American Council of the Blind Public Relations Committee
Phone: (270) 782-9325 or (270) 996-7356
E-mail: rmilliman@insightbb.com

Approximately 10 Million Blind and Low-Vision Americans Face Potentially Serious Injury, or Even Death, from Hybrid Cars

LOUISVILLE, July 2 -- What serious bodily injury, or even death, from hybrid cars could threaten blind and low-vision Americans? Believe it or not, it is the almost total lack of sound emitted from the increasing number of electric and gas-battery hybrid cars that quietly traverse our American streets and highways. It is true that Americans need relief from the $4-plus a gallon prices for gasoline. However, these hybrid cars pose a very hazardous and potentially deadly problem for many blind and low-vision Americans, unless some workable solution is found to resolve the problem posed by their near silence.

Melanie Brunson, ACB's executive director, says: "Traditionally, people who are blind or visually impaired learn to rely on their hearing and tactile cues to provide them with information about their environment which they can use to navigate safely across streets and through other vehicular ways, such as parking lots. In so doing, the sound of traffic is their primary focus. Traffic sounds provide information about such things as the position of vehicles, their direction of travel, their rate of acceleration, and the speed at which they are likely to move. With this information, the pedestrian can make informed decisions about when to cross a street or other vehicular way safely." Without such audible cues, a blind or visually impaired person is at serious risk.

Dr. Ron Milliman, chair of the ACB public relations committee, says: "Imagine you are a blind person traveling independently with the aid of your cane, something you have done confidently for years. You are crossing a fairly busy intersection. You listen for sounds of approaching cars. All cars seem stopped. Suddenly, you hear screeching brakes. Too late, you realize a quiet, nearly silent, hybrid car is only a few inches from you. Panic takes over. Every sense of survival says to run, but where? There is no time to escape as you face this horror and possible life-threatening situation.”

Dr. Karen Gourgey, a member of the ACB’s Environmental Access Committee, which is spearheading the council’s work on this crucial issue, states that this problem is a danger for all pedestrians, not simply those with vision loss. “Recent studies have shown that even people who are fully sighted use hearing as well as vision to make street-crossing decisions, though they may not realize it. And we haven’t even mentioned children and older people!” Gourgey stated that due to the persistence of ACB and others in the blindness community, people from the auto industry are finally beginning to take notice. Last week the Federal Highway Traffic Safety Administration held its first public meeting on the issue

"While blind and low-vision Americans certainly share all of the environmental and energy concerns of their fellow citizens," says Mitch Pomerantz, president of the American Council of the Blind (ACB), "we are simply asking that the adopted solutions not create other life-threatening problems."

Attendees will confront the issue at the American Council of the Blind's annual convention being held in Louisville from July 4-12 at the Galt House. Approximately 2,000 blind and low-vision individuals are expected to attend this year's convention.

ACB’s environmental access committee, in partnership with The Seeing Eye, will be conducting several live demonstrations to illustrate the potential hazards posed by these nearly silent vehicles. The first demonstration will take place Sunday afternoon, July 6, at 2 p.m. Another demonstration will take place Monday afternoon at 4:30 and will be repeated on Tuesday afternoon, July 8, at 4:30.

The American Council of the Blind is a national membership organization. Its members are blind, visually impaired, and fully sighted individuals who are concerned about the dignity and well-being of blind people throughout the nation. Formed in 1961, the Council is the largest organization of blind people in the United States, with more than 70 state and special interest affiliates and a nationwide network of chapters and members.

For more information about the American Council of the Blind or the ACB National Convention, contact: Melanie Brunson, Executive Director, American Council of the Blind, 1155 15th Street NW, Suite 1004, Washington, DC 20005; phone (202) 467-5081 or toll-free, 1-800-424-8666; or visit the web site, www.acb.org.

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