Intersections to reap benefits of beeps from University Drive to the Ceeps?

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Crossing the street at an intersection

Caitlin McCullough

WHY AREN'T YOU HOLDING MUMMY'S HAND? Western Chirps, an awareness campaign started by Western students Katy Swailes and Mark DeMontis, hopes to install audio signals for traffic lights at the busiest intersections on campus.

There will be new sounds coming to campus if an initiative headed by Western students takes hold.

A campaign to install audio signals at campus intersections is underway this year thanks to Western Chirps.

The campaign, the brainchild of third-year media and the public interest students Katy Swailes and Mark DeMontis, aims to make intersections safer to cross for visually impaired students.

The students started the initiative as part of a class project for an alternative media course.

“Mark and I decided to join forces,” Swailes said. “We thought we’d found something that could benefit everyone in the school.”

Though the campaign is only a few days old, it has a Facebook group that is rapidly gaining members.

“This is a serious issue ... Accessibility for students with disabilities is important,” DeMontis said.

“I think there needs to be more traffic control at the intersections.”

DeMontis, who is legally blind and has used audio signals before, said he thought the campaign would improve accessibility for visually impaired students.

Swailes agreed, and said she believed the initiative could help other students who are not legally blind, but may become confused by large intersections like University Drive.

The intersection at University Drive is used not only by cars, but also by buses, cyclists and pedestrians.

The signals also would cut down on the dangers posed by jaywalkers to the legally blind, Swailes added.

“Part of how the legally blind cross the street is dependent upon the movement of large groups of people,” Swailes noted. “If large groups of people [jaywalk], then that has the potential of a dangerous situation [for the blind.]”

Wendy Dickinson, a counselor with Student Development Services, said there was a demand for the project from the 25 visually impaired students on campus.

“The Accessibility Committee for the City of London has recommended [the signals],” Dickinson said.

The audio signals would be installed at busy intersections on campus and the tones would denote when it was safe to cross. Different tones would be used for north-south versus east-west crossings.

According to a report by the city of Surrey, in British Columbia, purchasing and installing audio signals would cost between $4,000 to $10,000 per intersection.

“It’s more a collaborative project between Physical Plant and the Canadian National Institute for the Blind,” DeMontis said, predicting the audio signals would begin to be installed by December.

Brandon Watson, communications officer for Physical Plant, said the decision to implement the audio signals would fall under the jurisdiction of London city hall.

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