Non-visual Strategies for Aligning to Cross Streets

When I first started teaching O&M 38 years ago, there were about 5 ways that blind people could reliably line up to cross streets (using the curb line or grassline; maintaining direction of travel; using traffic sounds; etc.). Slowly, all but a few of these have become ineffective (for example the grasslines in new communities often are not parallel when they reach the curb, so aligning with the grassline could send you diagonally across the intersection). I now teach the following principles and strategies to align:

At unfamiliar corners, never use the direction of ramps or detectable warning "bumps" or the curb or even the grassline to get your direction. You can use them only when you know if they are aligned.

Primary methods:
1. Maintain line of travel (this takes PRACTICE to avoid the pitfall of inadvertently using the curb or ramp, sending you off in another direction!).

2. Align with the sound of parallel traffic (see Teaching students to align with traffic sounds)

Back-up methods (when you can't maintain line of travel and there isn't enough traffic sound):
1. Turn around and walk a short distance the wrong way and find something there to line up with (grass, wall, building line, fence) and then approach the corner again, maintaining the line.

2. Follow the curb away from the corner until you think you've gone far enough that the curb is straight, and then line up with the curb and cross. Be aware you are out of the crosswalk and when you reach the other side, you will have to return to the corner. This is useful for residential streets but not recommended at busy intersections where drivers are not expecting pedestrians to cross so far from the corner and where you might have to climb over cars that are waiting to enter the intersection.

BACK-UP back-up method:
This method relies on physical features to align to cross. It is useful at intersections where you cross often and you can't use any of the other techniques, but you can prepare ahead of time (with assistance if necessary). For example at crossings where you have to push a pedestrian button to be assured of enough time to cross, it is often not possible to maintain alignment because you need to find and push the button, and you can't use the sound of parallel traffic to align because you need to start crossing as soon as it moves, so you can use this strategy to prepare for alignment ahead of time. Click here to access the strategy.

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