Situations of Uncertainty . . . does it really matter?
We have been talking about Situations of Uncertainty and how to recognize them, as well as the reliability of the traditional strategy "Clear to cross when quiet" and what "quiet" really means.
Let's take a look at how this applies to real-life situations.
Sue Etters and her guide dog got off the bus every day for 15 years to get home from work.
She crossed Beaver Avenue where there is no stop sign or traffic signal -- the street
was only two lanes wide there.
Sue, who is totally blind, had been taught by her O&M specialist in the 1960's that it is clear to cross when quiet.
Starting in July, 2009 Sue no longer used her dog, and crossed there every day using her cane.
Less than 6 months later she was hit by a car and almost killed while crossing there.
Thankfully, she lived to tell about it, as she does in the video to the right (the link to this YouTube video may not be accessible from restricted sites).
You can click here if you want more information about the crossing and what happened there.
Noticing hints of a problem
Was there any way to predict and avoid this calamity, any hints of a problem?
Well . . . yes there was, though it wasn't recognized at the time.
Over the years, she had noticed that sometimes when she crossed, her guide dog stopped or pulled back in order to avoid being hit by a car that she hadn't heard when she started to cross.
She later told me that these cars that sneaked up on her were not "quiet cars" -- when they went by her, they were as noisy as any other car.
But it never occurred to Sue that this indicated there might be a problem with her use of the strategy "cross when quiet" there.
Even several months after her clash with death, Sue didn't realize why that car was able to reach her when she hadn't heard it when she started crossing.
So I told her about Situations of Uncertainty. I explained that regardless of how skilled and careful you are, when you are in a Situation of Uncertainty you can't be sure it is clear to cross, even when it is very quiet.
Sue learned that before she crosses any street where there is no stop sign or traffic signal, she should first listen to figure out whether she can hear the traffic with enough warning, or is in a Situation of Uncertainty.
She said she will never again cross in situations where there is so much risk, and will learn how to recognize Situations of Uncertainty.
But this understanding didn't come naturally -- we cannot assume that people learn this from experience.
Our students need to know that there are situations where the "cross when quiet" strategy is no longer reliable, and learn how to recognize and deal with them.
What is our responsibility?
Sue said it best:
"It's almost like playing Russian roulette.
I'm not scared and I will travel independently again
but I want to do it safer than I did before, and recognize where it is too dangerous.
What happened to me happened for a reason, and I'm glad I'm around to talk about it. I don't want ANYONE to have to experience what I did.
Mobility instructors all need to tell their students about this, so they know that they risk being injured or killed in these situations."
Tragically, just 3 days after this interview, another blind traveler crossed at another Situation of Uncertainty.
He was also hit but, unlike Sue, he was killed.
On the next page we'll look at what happened.