Traffic engineers learn how it feels to be blind at TTU event

“Is it safe? Just step out and hope for the best.”
Published: Apr. 12, 2023 at 5:34 PM CDT
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - Have you ever tried to push a crosswalk signal button with your eyes closed? Or even tried to find the crossing ramp blindfolded?

That’s what these traffic engineers did Wednesday, to find better ways to design signals and crosswalks from the perspective of being visually impaired.

George Stern is a student at Texas Tech University who is visually and hearing impaired.

“It becomes easier for someone to say ‘I’ll just stay home. I won’t travel independently.’” Stern said.

Stern says he is challenged by simple architectural designs every day, from a lack of sidewalks and pedestrian crossings, to no automated crossing signals.

“All of these no’s can accumulate to the point where someone asks a question, is it even worth trying to travel independently,” Stern said.

To simulate how the visually impaired in our community travel through their lives, traffic engineers who design crosswalks and pedestrian signals walked across University Avenue and Glenna Goodacre Boulevard, two of Lubbock’s busiest intersections, blindfolded.

“It was kind of guesswork of, is it safe? Just step out and hope for the best,” Project Manager Engineer John Denholm said.

They faced challenges they may have never considered before.

“You don’t know where the curb ramp is, you don’t know where the traffic is.” Denholm said.

“I feel like I’m drifting off to one side or the other without realizing it,” Traffic Engineer Gary Shatz said.

And then there were architectural design obstacles.

“Push button systems, there was only one or two that tell you when you can cross,” Denholm said.

“We walked and tried to use a curb ramp that maybe wasn’t the best design.” Shatz said.

All to help facilitate the design of streets and intersections to be more accessible and safe for everyone.

“My responsibility is to help people travel from their door to the world safely and efficiently,” Shatz said.

Next time you cross a busy street, try to keep your visually impaired neighbors, and the obstacles they face, in mind.