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.

Some Subtle Ways that People with Mobility Issues Aren’t Accommodated

A few days ago, I was hobbling along with a hurt ankle. I am now 100%, but my ankle was really hurting and limiting my mobility for a few days.

I am not going to use today’s post to talk about my hurt ankle, but I will use my experience with it to hopefully expose readers to a some subtle ways that people with mobility issues aren’t accommodated[1]:

Our Own Behavior

During my time with a bum ankle, there has been many a time when people have tried to push through me or push past me without the courtesy of an “excuse me” while trying to get from point A to point B.

Often, we are so obsessed with getting from point A to point B in a timely manner that I fear we aren’t conscious of some of these behaviors. In the process, we push around people, shove people, and honk at people on the road who are walking too slowly for our liking but who really aren’t capable of moving any more quickly than they are. I know this because, regrettably, there’ve been times when I or friends I’ve been with have been that jerk who gets tries to rush someone with mobility issues without even a simple “excuse me” or an “I’m sorry for bumping into you.”

Now the tables have been turned on me. Now it is others who weren’t treating slow and mobility-limited Brendan with courtesy. The tables may be turned on others of us one day, and I hope we can show respect to people with mobility issues before we become the ones with such challenges.

Some Escalators Move Too Quickly

I work near a subway stop with escalators aplenty. This seemed great to me…until I realized that the escalators move so quickly that I would need to push myself to get on without tripping and falling.

So I guess I should’ve been on the elevator instead, since this subway stop also has elevators. But in cases where the only access for people with limited mobility is an escalator, a quick-moving one is a real problem. I’m just glad that I haven’t taken a tumble yet while trying to get on or off one of these high-speed escalators.

Crosswalk Signals Are Also Too Quick Sometimes

There have been a few occasions before when even able-bodied Brendan struggled to get from one part of an intersection to the other in the time between when the light changed to “walk” and when it changed back to “don’t walk.” If I had a hurt ankle though…forget about it.

The solution here is obvious: make sure the crosswalk signals leave enough time for people to cross the street easily. And yet, that’s not done!

Elevators Are Sometimes in Areas That Make People Feel Unsafe

Speaking of subways, I get on a subway stop that has elevator access. However, this elevator is over by what is, without a doubt, the most isolated section of the subway station. It’s so isolated that even I, a person who had years of karate training, wouldn’t feel safe, particularly at night.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is that, if we have accommodations for people with mobility issues in places where people feel unsafe, it defeats the purpose of the elevator access.


Of course, there may be other ways that people with mobility limitations are excluded. However, I am going off the knowledge from having a few days with a bad ankle, so I may have forgotten other key points. If there are other things I should’ve included, please comment below!

On the other hand, if you weren’t aware of these things before, I hope you are aware now!

[1] To me, any accommodation issue that might not be noticed easily by able-bodied people fits into the category of “subtle.” I acknowledge that what may be subtle to me might be painfully clear to even some other able-bodied people.