How Crosswalks are Still Ableist, Even With Disability Laws

For able-bodied people, going through a crosswalk is pretty simple: we get to the street, we wait to have the right-of-way, and then we cross.

For people who are not able-bodied, it is not necessarily that simple. Not only that, but there are actually a number of ways that crosswalk areas are problematic to people who are not able-bodied, and are therefore ableist:

  1. Some crosswalks don’t have long enough light cycles for the people crossing. There have been numerous times where even I, an able-bodied 24-year-old, struggled to cross a street before I lost the right-of-way. If even I struggle with crossing by the time I lose the right-of-way, the problem is even worse for people who are not swift on their feet.
  2. Some crosswalks don’t have any noise cues for people who are blind. Honestly, I’ve always asked myself how a blind person can possibly cross a street without being run over by a car. If this video is any indication, it is difficult at best to cross the street without sound cues. Yes, blind people often seem to rely on sound cues from cars on the street, but many crosswalks (including crosswalks in New York City) lack sound devices to inform blind people on when it is or is not safe to cross the street.
  3. Many crosswalks seem to have the pedestrian right-of-way mostly (or only) activated when a button is pushed to ask for a walk sign. However, from amputated arms to simply an old person struggling to get to that button the person needs to push, there are various reasons why the pedestrian right-of-way activation button is not easily accessible for many individuals.
  4. In many snowy areas, snow is often pushed to the side, to the curb and to…the crosswalks. And sadly, such snow is often not removed from these crosswalk areas. The result is that many street crossings are barely accessible to even able-bodied people like me, let alone those who are not able-bodied.

While crosswalks have improved in some ways—most notably an increasing number of sound cues for crosswalks so that blind people can cross safely, as well as ramps that allow people with wheelchairs to get from the walkway to the street and back to the walkway again—we should not settle for these improvements alone. We should not settle for the aforementioned improvements alone because there are still several ways that crosswalks are not safe for many to cross. Hopefully, the appropriate changes can be made, so that crosswalks are accessible to more than the able-bodied.