Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 10.25.07

Audible Directions
We all benefit from the high-tech pedestrian signals

Shocked is putting it mildly, “outraged” and “offended” are words heard around the table at last week’s (10/8) City of Eugene Accessibility Committing meeting. These sentiments were prompted by Dan Pagoda’s Sept. 27 cartoon about the accessible pedestrian signals in the Weekly entitled “So Eug!”    

Unbeknownst to many residents of our area, there is an incredible force at work on our behalf — the city’s Human Rights Program. Under that heading, the Human Rights Commission, along with its committees: Education & Outreach, Advocate Response Team, and Accessibility, work to make our community more just, equitable, and accessible. For the past two years, Accessible Pedestrian Signals, or APSs, have been on the work plan of the Accessibility Committee. Thanks to the dedication of community members, Human Rights Program staff, a few committed members of the Accessibility Committee, and city of Eugene Public Works staff, we now have APS installed at 32 intersections throughout the city and a plan to yearly equip six to 10 more intersections in the future.

These APSs are a state-of-the-art technology that assist many of us in more safely maneuvering intersections as pedestrians. Not only do the signals give clear information about when to cross a street, but many also broadcast the name of which street it’s safe to cross, as well as a countdown of the time left before the light changes. There are variations of the these signals in communities around the country from Corvallis (where a chirping sound is the only indication that it is safe to cross), to Washington, D.C. (where some of the signals give a series of beeps when it’s safe to cross, in combination with a lighted countdown display of the seconds left to cross — useful information, but available only to the sighted).

It is hard to imagine that the Weekly would print a racist or homophobic cartoon in this section, but evidently an abilist perspective is still acceptable. The cartoon was offensive in its bumbling representation of the presumably blind or visually impaired individual in the cartoon (“as a person of – um – lack of sight”); additionally, the very community being represented in the cartoon did not have a way to see, read, or know about the cartoon. Blind and visually impaired folks who access the Weekly in its electronic form only learned about the cartoon from us sighted folks who saw it in your paper.

The beauty of the APS is not only its lifesaving potential for visually impaired pedestrians, but also, because these devices provide additional safety cues, to the rest of us. For some these devices mean safety and the ability to move more freely and autonomously in the world. From children and those who experience cognitive disabilities, to the distracted and multi-tasking street crosser, we all benefit from their audible directions.


As a member of the Human Rights Commission, it is clear to me that the city of Eugene cares about our safety and comfort. If you believe that an APS (or any other traffic signal, for that matter) isn’t working properly or is turned up so loudly that it’s more disruptive than helpful, call Public Works Maintenance staff 682-4800 and share your concern. If you know of an intersection where people would benefit from having an APS, call Human Rights Program staff at 682-5177 to make your interest known. If you are curious about the Human Rights Program, you can learn more about the work being done and ways to be involved by visiting the city of Eugene website, ( and typing “Human Rights Program” in the search box. Additionally, if you are interested in attending an Accessibility Committee meeting (all of our meetings are open to the public and we’d be glad to have you), we typically meet from 11:30 am to 1 pm on the second Monday of the month at the Atrium, in the Saul Room (99 W 10th Ave., third floor).

I was surprised and disappointed by the publication of Pagoda’s insulting cartoon. The Weekly has generally been a supporter of accessibility concerns. Rather than criticizing the addition of these signals to our community, it seems like we’d be lauding the city for making Eugene an even better place to live, walk, roll and bike.

Annette Leonard of Eugene writes on behalf of the Accessibility Committee.