O&M Strategies Can Keep You Safer at Tricky Intersections

A person with a white cane walking in a crosswalk

Orientation and Mobility (O&M) training helps people who are blind or who have low vision move around safely in all environments. Navigating busy street intersections is one of many important skills included in O&M training.

Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist Brent Perzentka of the Council is a member of the City of Madison’s Vision Zero task force. This working group, made up of police, city engineers, biking and pedestrian advocates, and other stakeholders aims to improve safety for everyone moving about in the city, with the ambitious goal of eliminating all traffic fatalities and serious injuries on the city’s streets, bike paths and sidewalks. Safer intersections and a strong understanding of how to navigate them is part of the formula for achieving that goal.

Brent says intersections come in three different environmental categories: Quiet, residential intersections are what one usually encounters on a neighborhood stroll. Then there are intersections in “semi-business” districts, where crosswalks may have as many as four lanes moving through them. Business districts are the busiest type of intersections. They are surrounded by as many as six-to-eight moving traffic lanes.

Each category of intersection requires a different approach for pedestrians with vision loss. For example, for lower-traffic intersections like those found on a neighborhood, Brent suggests these steps:

• Come to a standstill squarely on the sidewalk ramp.
• Cross your body with your cane. It tells drivers “I’m not crossing right now. I’m just waiting until it’s safe.”
• Identify the intersection by standing still and listening to cars in motion and cars stopping. This can tell you if the intersection is a two-way stop or a four-way stop.
• Wait until you hear no cars. All quiet means all clear.

Brent says the road’s contours can be a good way to maintain your orientation as you cross an intersection. “Many streets are domed up toward the middle,” says Brent. This is to aid drainage during heavy precipitation, but it also provides a slight uphill-downhill sensation to the pedestrian.

Brent also has suggestions for people who want to call local officials’ attention to an intersection that needs a safety upgrade. Reaching out to the local streets or engineering department is a good first step. A number of Council clients, friends and allies have successfully advocated for audible pedestrian signals at busy intersections.

Local government staff members generally welcome input from residents about dangerous intersections. “The majority of stories I hear from people around the state are that they are receptive to feedback,” says Brent. “Get to know your local people. If you speak up, you might be helping dozens of other people.”

If you are interested in discussing how you can benefit from O&M training, you can contact Brent at 608 237-8112 or BPerzentka@WCBlind.org.

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