Analyzing Risks, Developing Strategies, and Making Decisions
Forty years ago, when I started teaching Orientation and Mobility (O&M), street-crossing was a straightforward task for blind travelers. Intersections were predictable and we had standard, successful procedures for crossing them safely.
Of course there was risk in crossing, but there is risk in everything that each of us does, and the risk was acceptable.
But as signalized intersections became more and more unpredictable and complex, and it became more and more common for crossings with no traffic control to have situations of uncertainty for gap judgment,
crossings became increasingly difficult and risky.
As a result, both O&M specialists and blind pedestrians started to question whether it is possible to cross a given street safely.
The ambiguity and complexity of street-crossings at modern intersections call for a new approach to teaching street-crossing -- an approach that considers risks and making decisions about crossings.
About 10 years ago, I started to use a new approach to street-crossing with students and clients, and it has been very effective at helping us address these issues satisfactorily.
The new approach is:
after the students have learned all the requisite street-crossing concepts and skills, at each intersection they:
1. analyze the intersection and situation (determine length of crosswalk / width of street, intersection geometry and traffic control, sound of the traffic, etc.);
2. determine appropriate / optimal strategy for crossing;
3. determine risks of crossing -- analyze each intersection for:
- risks (what could possibly go wrong?);
- how the risks can be reduced;
- how likely the risk is to occur (after being reduced);
4. reduce risks as much as possible (including changing or revising crossing strategy);
5. consider whether the risks are acceptable to the student/client or guardian;
6. consider alternatives if risk is not acceptable.
Our responsibility to our students, in addition to teaching them the skills and strategies needed to travel, include making sure they understand:
- Before deciding if the risk is acceptable, reduce risk as much as possible (including changing street-crossing strategy if appropriate).
- A definition of "safe" is that "a thing is considered 'safe' if its risks are determined
to be acceptable."
- The level of acceptance of risk for each person is individual, and may be different from yours.
- Make sure that the student/client is prepared and familiar with alternatives for situations when the risk is not acceptable.
- Discuss pedestrian laws in the student/client's area.
More details are in an article published in the Journal of Visual Impairment &
Blindness, October 2005 • Volume 99 • Number 10.
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