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Disabled Residents Protest UES Opposition to Crosswalks for Blind

By DNAinfo Staff on January 17, 2013 8:28am

UPPER EAST SIDE — Disabled activists appalled by opposition to audible crosswalk signals for the blind slammed it as a denial of "basic dignity" that would "take away their independence."

Complaints by some Upper East Side residents that the crosswalks would be too noisy prompted a dozen people to speak up in front of Community Board 8 Wednesday night.

"It is a matter of basic dignity for people," said Charles Gourgey, who is blind. He said the visually impaired should not have to rely on others' assistance, as in the past.

"Those days are gone."

Gabriela Amari, a systems advocate with the Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled, said, "I can't imagine that someone would want to take away someone's independence because of a little noise."

The chirps emitted at the crossings do not only help the visually impaired, but also people in mobility chairs who might not be able to see crosswalk signals, she said.

Vibrating buttons also let blind and hearing impaired people safely cross streets, she said.

"Taking away audible pedestrian systems would be the same thing as taking away street lights for able-bodied persons and then having them cross the street — it's taking your chances," Amari said.

Ronnie Ellen Raymond, who uses a wheelchair, held back tears as she too called for the crossings.

"I remember looking at the accessible buses and thinking, 'I don't ever see anyone using them. Why are they wasting our time and money?'" she said.

"Then they installed them, and people in wheelchairs came out in droves. Now, I sometimes have to wait for a second — or even third — bus to stop because the two wheelchair spaces are taken.

"I'm never upset because I see that people like me can have a life."

The city has proposed installing audible signals at many intersections, including crosswalks at East 72nd, 79th, 86th and 96th streets.

Most members of CB8 voiced support for the devices — and distanced themselves from the Upper East Siders complaining that the audible signals are unnecessary and noisy.

Earlier this month, DNAinfo.com New York reported that some residents opposed the audible crossings, calling them "noise pollution" and a "colossal waste of money."

"I've never once seen a blind person cross the street by themselves," resident Peter Renehan said at a previous CB8 meeting.

"These people are assisted because we are a neighborhood. We don't need more noise to assist people to cross the street."

But board member, David Rosenstein, said Wednesday, "I'm embarrassed anyone would think that we wouldn't be supportive of any device to help the visually impaired."

Added CB8 member Barbara Rudder: "I hope we do everything we can to get as many of those devices in our district."

Not all were convinced.

"There were many people from the community who came to the meeting in opposition of this," said Michele Birnbaum, a member of CB8's Transportation Committee.

"This is not as clear cut a subject as you might think it is. We don't have all the information."