Almost 20 million Americans, roughly 8 percent of the United States population, have visual impairments. Impaired vision can range anywhere from poor vision to complete blindness. People with visual impairments have difficulty with routine tasks, including crossing the street. Accessible Pedestrian Push Buttons or Accessible Pedestrian Signals (APS) are devices that offer nonvisual formats of intersection phase information for the visually impaired. They provide information such as pushbutton existence and location, walk interval, crosswalk direction, intersection name in Braille, and intersection signalization with a speech message. These forms of information provide inclusivity and accessibility for all pedestrians.
An accessible pedestrian push button makes a continuous beeping sound, this is called a locator tone. It helps lead visually impaired pedestrians to the pedestrian crossing area. A momentary press, which is your typical button press of less than a second, will give acknowledgment with a “Wait” message. An extended press of greater than 1 second, will prompt the device to give a location message of “Wait to cross” or “Wait to cross intersection street names]”. Once the crossing status changes the device message “Walk sign is on” or “Walk sign is on to cross intersection street This is the MUTCD standard (Section 4E.11). In cases when two buttons are further than 10 feet apart on the same corner, audible tones maybe be used in place of the “Walk” message.
The arrow is raised so the direction of the crosswalk can be felt by a pedestrian. The arrow is designed to be pointed at the beginning of the crosswalk the pedestrian intends to cross. This is the MUTCD standard (Section 4E.12). Arrows should also have good visual contrast from their background so all pedestrians, including those with low vision, can readily see them.
The tactile arrow on an APS device vibrates rapidly during the walk interval. This is the MUTCD standard (. You must have your hand on the arrow to feel the vibrations. For this to be the most useful, the device must be installed where a pedestrian can stand with one hand on the arrow positioned to begin crossing. Vibrotactile walk indications help pedestrians with hearing and vision impairments.
Step-by-Step Instructions For Crossing
Now that you understand the ins and outs of the device, here are some general steps for using an accessible pedestrian push button.
- Locate the accessible push button at a crosswalk or intersection. These are usually positioned 3.5 ft above the sidewalk on a pole. For the visually impaired or blind, use the locator tone to find the device.
- Identify any tactile indicators that may be present on the push button. This could be a raised arrow or braille push button instructions signs. Remember the direction of the raised arrow indicates the crosswalk direction.
- Press the accessible pedestrian push button firmly but gently. Apply enough pressure to activate the button, you should hear “Wait” or a percussive tone indicating button press acknowledgment. Hold the button for an additional second if you need an audible indication message such as “Wait to cross” or “Wait to cross [street intersection]”.
- After pressing the button listen or feel for signals indicating the cross signal has been activated. This may include an audible walk signal or a tactile vibration of the arrow.
- When the pedestrian signal indicates the walk signal is on, proceed cautiously to cross the street.
Be careful when traveling as a pedestrian. Do not solely trust the walk signal. The walk signal does not indicate it is safe to cross, merely that it is legal to cross. Be sure to always look both ways or listen for oncoming traffic before crossing.