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New device helps blind and deaf pedestrians

The City of Cape Town plans to install devices designed to assist blind or deaf pedestrians at all new traffic signals, and at as many current intersections as possible.

The Audio Tactile Pedestrian Detector has a vibrating button which emits both audio and tactile signals indicating that the green man signal is lit and that it is therefore safe to cross the road.

The first device to be installed in the city was demonstrated at a function officiated at by Councillor Elizabeth Thompson, Mayoral Committee Member for Transport, Roads and Stormwater, outside the Cape Town Society for the Blind offices in Salt River.

"We are going to make this feature a standard fixture on all new signals and hope to install the device at as many current intersections as is possible," she said.

Vincent Daniels, public events officer at the Cape Town Society for the Blind (which recently celebrated its 80th anniversary), says the device is built into the pole, and is used throughout the world at road crossings that blind and deaf people use. It originated in Australia.

Blind people are taught to locate traffic signals by means of the low beep tone that they emit from far off. They can then locate the pole with their cane, he said.

"You push a button and there is a beep tone while you wait for it to change to a different frequency. The second beep tone is the signal to cross. It vibrates at this time too, like a cellphone vibrates, so that people whose hands are on the mechanism can feel it."

The device is also able to measure ambient noise and increase its buzzer level above the surrounding noise.

While there has been an audio traffic signal in Salt River for over 10 years, the new device is both audio and tactile, and conforms to international standards on how the beep tone should sound. The slow beep noise also does not interfere with people standing nearby.

Daniels says he would like to see more of these devices across the city, especially in major crossing areas.

"While there are not necessarily a lot of blind or deaf people around, there are people who are hard of hearing or have poor sight, as well as the elderly, who are not classified as blind or deaf. They will take solace from knowing that this sort of device is giving them added safety and peace of mind."

"I am blind myself, and have used the Australian versions of this device in Sydney and Melbourne. Their volumes are higher, while ours are a bit lower," said Daniels.

"It makes me feel safer. But then again, a traffic light is as good as the traffic itself – people run straight through traffic lights even when it is not in their favour."

Thompson said the City is serious about stopping the carnage on the roads, and the device is "certainly a wonderful way of contributing to bring our people 'safely home'.

"I want to encourage people to use the devices, and call on the driving public to remain vigilant and be courteous to pedestrians."
Martin Pollack
© City of Cape Town, 2016