‘I’m not in a wheelchair. I’m blind.’ Locals worried after blind awareness sign removed from neighborhood

August 17, 2022 | 12:11 am

Updated August 17, 2022 | 12:06 pm

Residents voiced concern after a blind awareness sign was taken down by city officials. | Photo by Josh Kelly

After City officials removed a sign that read “Blind Person in Area” due to violation of codes, community members went to City Commissioners with disdain on Tuesday. Neighborhood resident Birdie Coleman challenged commissioners to go outside and cross the street with their eyes closed and ask themselves if it was safe.

“When you leave here tonight and when you go out front and you have to cross, close your eyes and listen. Listen to the traffic zooming by and keep your eyes closed and ask yourself, ‘Is this safe? Is it safe for me to cross now? Is there somebody coming or are they speeding?'” Coleman said to commissioners.

Father Jamie Dennis, who is blind, said that he crosses East 22nd Street every day to go to work in the Parish at Blessed Mother Catholic Church. Eventually signs were put up on both ends of the street to warn drivers of the possibility that he could be walking across the road.

Dennis was notified the sign might be removed due to code violations, so he planned to begin a conversation with city officials about the importance of having signage that warns traffic.

However, the sign was removed before the conversation could begin. In addition to removing the “Blind Person in Area” sign, the City put up a new one depicting a person in a wheelchair (the general symbol for someone who is handicapped).

“There was no discussion, no opportunity for dialogue. Now there’s a sign that has a wheelchair on it. I’m not in a wheelchair; I’m blind,” Dennis said. “Unless some miracle happened where my sight restored and I’m all of a sudden in a wheelchair, but that didn’t happen.”

City Engineer Kevin Collignon said the signs that were put up initially were against the federal code for street signage, and that was the reasoning behind removing the signs.

He also noted that research shows that signs like “Deaf Person in Area,” “Children at Play,” and “Deaf Child in Area” do not work effectively against drivers speeding through the area.

“It’s possible they create a false sense of safety for [the people it applies to]. As Father [Dennis] alluded to, he may have felt some additional safety having that sign in place when research has shown that that is not created,” Collignon said.

The reason for switching the sign to a person in a wheelchair, Collignon said, was because that is the international symbol for handicapped individuals and is federally compliant.

“If you think about it not everybody can read and not everybody can read English, and that’s why that federal document has gone to more and more use of symbols,” he said.

Sheryl Lott, President of the Support Alliance for the Visually Impaired, said that while she is appreciative that the city did replace the sign with the handicap crossing sign, the organization doesn’t know if that is appropriate for them because most don’t feel handicapped.

City Manager Nate Pagan said that in the last few weeks, the City has received requests for similar signs noting “visually impaired child” or “children with autism.” However, the City has denied those signs due to noncompliance to federal code.

August 17, 2022 | 12:11 am

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