Accessibility for blind in Toronto

Area near CNIB is easy for the vision impared to navigate
But not so much for rest of the city
By Kris Scheuer
(Originally published Aug. 13 for Town Crier.)

Debbie Williams, centre, waits at an intersection until she knows it’s safe to cross. Photo by Kris Scheuer/Town Crier.

Debbie Williams is luckier than most visually impaired individuals.
She lives next door to the Canadian National Institute for the Blind’s headquarters on Baview Ave. just north of Eglinton Ave. East. The sidewalks, businesses, signalized intersections and transit in this area is designed to be more accessible for people who are blind or have reduced vision.
So in some ways this neighbourhood is a model to copy for other communities.
At Bayview and Kilgour Rd. there are audible pedestrian signals at the traffic lights emitting a coo-coo sound to indicate when it’s safe to walk north-south and chirp noises for when pedestrians should cross east-west.
Also, if you keep your hand on the button it will vibrate for people who are deaf and blind so they know when the light is green in their direction.
The city currently has about 257 signalized intersections equipped with audio signals and another 30 will be added this year.Outside the CNIB office at 1929 Bayview Ave. the sidewalks not only slope down but have raised nodules at the curb, to indicate to a pedestrian that they are approaching the intersection.

Certainly these small steps make it easier for people with vision loss to safely navigate their way around, but there are many other challenges. 
Williams walks with me south on Bayview to give me a sense of some of the obstacles that make it harder for her to navigate through her day. 
“I wish (the city) would fix these potholes,” said Williams, who uses a white cane to help her navigate the streets. 
One of her pet peeves is when she goes to a mall or shopping centre and often has to walk through a parking lot full of moving cars before she gets to an entrance way. 
“I’d like to see more direct routes into malls,” she said. “It’s not just for the visually impaired but also seniors with walkers.” 
When she goes into the Metro supermarket on Bayview she can bypass the parking lot and enter on Eglinton Ave. instead. Another bonus here, she adds, is there’s a customer service counter at the entrance that’s helpful so she and others can ask for help locating products. 
One concern she has is so called “blind” intersections where a driver may stop too far back to accurately see pedestrians waiting to cross the street. This can be quite worrisome, she said. 
And don’t get her started when it comes to transit stops. 
The TTC has more than 1,400 accessible buses with low-floors and all stops are automatically announced. But her issue has to do with the placement of transit shelters. 
“Sometimes the bus shelter is not where the bus stop is, so you are standing in the shelter cause it’s raining and the bus whizzes by you,” she said.
The bus shelters are part of a city contract for all street furniture while transit is run by the TTC, so shelters and bus stops are not always coordinated.
Despina Jackson is a mobility instructor at CNIB and works with visually impaired clients to help them navigate areas like St. Clair Ave. West. She has purposely taken clients along that street so they can learn how to navigate an area with ongoing road and sidewalk construction.
“It was a mess on St. Clair,” she said.
Mobility instructor Scott Johnston works with visually impaired clients to help them get around the neighbourhoods near Eglinton and Bayview.
One thing he’d like to see is for the city to add more tactile surfaces to the sidewalk curbs so people with vision loss can better feel their way when they are entering an intersection.
He’d also like to see is intersections that better line up from one side of the street to another.“This is one of the better neighbourhoods,” he said. “But there is always more we can do.”
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