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Blind man walking (and running)!

Blind man walking (and running)!

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Kyle Robidoux is the Director of  Volunteer & Support Group Services at the Mass. Assoc. for the Blind & Visually Impaired.

I walk everywhere. As a marathoner, I also run all throughout Boston and neighboring cities.

I’m also legally blind so walking, along with public  transit, is my main mode of transportation. Therefore,  walkability is very important to me and my family.

The walkability of the city and its public infrastructure impacts me every day. It impacts where I walk, how quickly I can get to where I need to be, and most importantly how safely I can get there.

As someone with low vision (I have very restricted central vision, similar to looking through a toilet paper roll), I rely on sidewalks, curb cuts and ramps, and crosswalks to get me safely to where I need to be. I use a white cane most of the time so the quality of sidewalks and streets is very important.

Brick sidewalks are one of the most unfriendly surfaces for me and most folks with limited mobility (I assume most sighted walkers, too). My cane tip frequently gets stuck in a missing brick or I trip because of the unevenness of the sidewalk. Old (some say historic) sidewalks are very common in the South End, where I spend a good majority of my time. If I have a choice, I will avoid going down a street if I know it has terrible brick sidewalks. I’m thankful that the city has set a new policy limiting the amount of brick in the walk path when repairing/installing new sidewalks.

As my eyesight decreases, I am becoming more reliant on audible street crossings. Otherwise, I have to ask someone to help me find the push button. It would be wonderful if more street crossings had regular intervals in which to cross or a “walk signal” triggered by a sensor on the closest curb ramp.

My relationship to the built environment in my neighborhood plays a large factor as my eyesight decreases, especially during the winter. Trying to navigate unshoveled sidewalks and curb cuts blocked by snowbanks is physically and mentally exhausting. I walk my daughter to school along the South Bay Harbor Trail. Sections of the trail were not plowed this winter days after a snowstorm. Some days my daughter and I, along with other students, were forced to walk in the street because the unplowed path was too difficult to walk.

As our communities continue to develop, I hope less time and energy is spent on talking about parking and traffic and more on creating accessible public spaces.

Creating accessible spaces is not only good public policy but will also ensure that they flourish and reach their greatest potential.

This article was featured in our Spring 2014 newsletter. See the full newsletter & past editions here.

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