Rebecca Blaevoet works on the company website at Tactile Vision Graphics in Windsor on Tuesday, May 19, 2015.
Blaevoet is upset with Transit Windsor
after a bus driver refused to help the blind woman find her stop. (TYLER BROWNBRIDGE/The Windsor Star)
Windsor is a particularly challenging city to navigate for the visually impaired, says newcomer Rebecca Blaevoet.
Every time she rides the bus, she approaches the front with assistance from her seeing-eye dog, then asks the driver to alert her upon arrival at her stop.
As a frequent transit user, she quickly became acquainted with the driver from her route. Despite her reminders at the beginning of each ride, he would often drive past the stop without remembering to let her off.
This simple mistake was inconvenient but understandable, says Blaevoet, 47. What she could not understand was the driver’s attitude.
“One day he said, ‘Listen, you’re a blind lady. You should have somebody with you,'” recalls Blaevoet, who was “gobsmacked” by this response.
She filed a complaint to Transit Windsor, and was told the driver would be spoken to about his comment.
“Windsor is really dragging its feet in terms of accessibility,” said Blaevoet. “It compares to a city 30 years ago.”
She believes this unpleasant situation and others like it could have been avoided if Windsor buses were equipped with audible stop announcements.
“Most cities I’ve lived in since 2010 have had them,” said Blaevoet, who has lived in 11 cities in her adult life. “Brantford even has them, and Brantford is half the size of Windsor.”
Pat Delmore, the executive director of Transit Windsor, says the addition of audible stop announcements in Windsor buses is “on its way as we speak.”
City council approved $1.7 million for transit technology improvements in the capital budget, he noted.
“We are in an open request-for-proposal stage right now and we are about to award the tender for this. It is part of the technology improvements that will be part of this report that will be going to council for approval.”
The announcements will be both audible and visual, he explained, with a sign on the bus stating what the next stop will be.
“Typically it takes about 12 to 18 months for implementation. This is one of the first and one of the biggest things that we’ll be implementing,” said Delmore.
“There has always been a demand for it, and we recognize many other transit properties in Ontario have them. It has been on our wish list.”
For the time being, he encourages passengers with vision impairments to seek assistance from bus drivers.
“The passenger can ask the driver for assistance, and that has always worked well,” he said. “We’ve even had multiple compliments called in where our drivers are going above and beyond.”
Blaevoet would disagree. Beyond advocating for improved accessibility in the transit system, she is also actively pushing for the addition of more accessible pedestrian signals in Windsor.
Currently, there are 10 crossing signals in the city that advise pedestrians who are visually impaired when they have the right-of-way to cross, and in which direction. There are plans to install two more accessible pedestrian signals shortly.
“The city wants to introduce these for the benefit of the visually impaired community,” said Ward 9 Coun. Hilary Payne. “Each of those is $9,000,” he added. “They’re not cheap.”
The new signals will be installed at the intersections of Pillette Road and Wyandotte Street East, as well as Sunset Avenue and University Avenue West, said Payne.
“If an intersection is going to be reconstructed, then the city is legally obliged to install the audio pedestrian signals,” he noted. “With regard to the other existing crossings, that will depend on the budget process from year to year.”
Shauna Boghean is the orientation and mobility instructor at the Windsor and Essex-Kent chapter of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. With regard to accessibility, she thinks Windsor is “on the right track, but has a long way to go.”
“We at the CNIB asked for more accessible pedestrian crossings, and they have been installed. The conversation is happening,” she said, adding that she would still like to see more.
“For some members of Windsor’s visually impaired community, crossing a busy traffic area like Tecumseh without audible traffic signals is virtually impossible.”
For Thomas Bannister, president of the Windsor-Essex Low Vision Social and Support Group, crossing certain intersections in Windsor can be a scary experience.
“When I approach the corner, I listen for the traffic and if I hear it going in front of me, I know that I shouldn’t cross. If I hear it go beside me, I know that I can cross,” said Bannister, 72.
He and his wife Lynn, who is legally blind, have lived in Windsor for seven years. They have been honked at and nearly hit by cars on multiple occasions.
The couple says negative interactions with Windsor bus drivers are “common,” and they are often treated the same way Blaevoet described.
Like the Bannisters, Blaevoet is unimpressed with the “reactionary attitude” in Windsor about accessibility.
“I’m going to keep championing until improvement happens,” she said. “City council had better get ready, because they haven’t seen the end of me.”