Audible signals about human rights: lawyer
Jun 06, 2013 – 7:00 AM
SOUND ARGUMENT. Marcia Yale, left, and Jo-Anne Boulding argue in favour of audible pedestrian signals during a May 16 accessibility advisory committee meeting in Huntsville. Alison Brownlee HUNTSVILLE
Having audible pedestrian signals at two downtown Huntsville intersections is not about inconveniencing nearby residents with noise, says lawyer Jo-Anne Boulding.
Boulding represented Mike and Marcia Yale, Huntsville residents with visual impairments who are lobbying for continuously sounding audible pedestrian signals at two Main Street intersections.
She spoke at a Town of Huntsville accessibility advisory committee meeting on May 16 about how the request for continuously audible signals is about human rights.
She noted that human rights are often considered inconvenient, time-consuming, complicated and expensive, but they are necessary for equality and safety in the community.
“It’s often when we try to advance rights that the resistance arises,” she said.
The Town of Huntsville and the District of Muskoka agreed to conduct a test of continuously sounding audible pedestrian signals at Main Street and Brunel Road as well as Main and Centre streets as part of the minutes of settlement from an Ontario Human Rights Tribunal Hearing held in Huntsville in November 2012.
Boulding made her comments after reviewing the 22 survey responses, 10 emails, four telephone calls and one Huntsville Forester letter to the editor, submitted to the town after a 48-hour test was conducted April 24 to 26.
The survey responses both supported and criticized the signals.
Those who supported the signals applauded the additional time the signals gave pedestrians to cross the street and the heightened warning they gave to motorists that pedestrians may be crossing.
But those who criticized the signals commented that they were unnecessarily loud, disturbed residents and businesses within a one-kilometre radius, distracted drivers, annoyed pedestrians and were a general round-the-clock audible annoyance.
One respondent questioned why those in need of an audible signal could not simply press the pedestrian signal button for three seconds to activate the audible signal, as is the case now.
“Change is always difficult and when it’s confused by lack of information or wrong information it makes it doubly so,” said Boulding.
She said it was clear from the survey submissions that some people were misinformed.
“This is not about inconvenience to either of the street residents or the visually impaired community. It’s not about holding a button for three seconds longer than a sighted person. This is about full inclusion and participation in our society,” said Boulding.
She said some people might take the ability to travel freely and safely for granted.
“We can all imagine what it is like to be blind by either closing our eyes or shutting out lights, but it does not get us anywhere near the experience,” she said.
Boulding said there were a number of options for the community to investigate regarding intersection safety for persons with visual impairments. Those options include continuously sounding signals, intersection alignment, different audible pedestrian signal systems beyond the cuckoo-chirp sounds, and further study of poles, curbs and surfaces, among others.
Marcia Yale spoke at the meeting about the need for safety and the right to equality.
“Everyone has the right to travel safely,” said Yale.
She noted that there are safety issues with the misalignment of the intersections and the placement of the poles that hold the push buttons.
And Yale commented that people with mobility issues might be unable to push the button to activate the audible signals.
She said the audible signals heard during the test period allowed her to cross the intersections safely because the signals clearly indicated the crossing points.
And she suggested noise should not be an issue.
“People who live on main streets in towns and cities can get used to the noise, whatever it is. Otherwise, you wouldn’t choose to live there,” she said, noting she lives near train tracks, which is no longer a noise issue for her. “You’ll get used to whatever you choose to get used to because otherwise you wouldn’t have chosen to live on the main street of the town. You would have chosen to live in a quieter place if noise really was an issue.”
But a committee member later countered that argument.
“Some of the apartments on Main Street, it’s probably not some people’s favourite place to live, but that’s where they can afford to live and that’s what’s available for them. To say someone can move if they don’t like a noise, it’s not as simple as that,” said the committee member.
Deb Kirwin, chair of the accessibility advisory committee, noted that the purpose of the meeting was to gather information and ask questions.
The advisory committee, she said, will be responsible for evaluating the survey submissions, identifying issues to be resolved, research audible pedestrian signal technology and provide a recommendation to town council.
Boulding noted that, as per the minutes of settlement agreed upon by the town and the complainants as part of the hearing, the Yales and their representative would need time to review the advisory committee’s findings before the report is sent to council.
The advisory committee met to discuss its final recommendation as this paper was going to press on June 4.