MEDINA — At North Court and West Liberty streets, a steady beeping like an electronic heartbeat directs the visually impaired down the sidewalk to a black signal box mounted on a post near the corner.
Stow resident Michelle Hasenstaub, one hand gripping the harness of Edge, her guide dog, walked through the park on Public Square, approached the box and ran her other hand lightly around the box to locate the button activating the voice prompts that identify the street by name and tell pedestrians when it is safe to cross.
Hasenstaub, president of Eye on Summit, the Summit County chapter of the American Council of the Blind of Ohio, an advocacy and assistance organization for the visually impaired and blind, visited Medina on Saturday with other members of the group to investigate the installation cost and operation of the audible signals.
“No one had seen one,” Hasenstaub said of this particular audible signal. “There are (devices called) chirpers that let us know when it’s safe to cross, but they don’t indicate direction. You still have to listen for the traffic flow.”
Roger Grabowski, a member of the Medina Lions Club, helped arrange the visit after he talked to Akron Lions Club member Sam Moats, who serves as vice president of Eye on Summit. Providing assistance to the visually impaired and blind is the main focus of the Lions Club, Grabowski said.
“We’re probably best known for collecting eyeglasses for Third World countries,” he said. “And we hope to hook up with the class at the vocational school (Medina County Career Center) that provides eye exams, to give them money for lenses.”
Working with Friends-N-Focus, the Medina chapter of the ACB of Ohio, Grabowski said they jumped at the opportunity to invite Eye on Summit members to investigate the crossing signals firsthand and take them for a test drive, so to speak.
“Test walk,” said Moats with a hearty laugh before they strolled down Broadway Street past the courthouse toward East Washington, accompanied by sighted members of the group. Some used white canes, sweeping them from side to side across the cement walk, testing for the curb when they halted and waited expectantly to hear the mechanism give them directions to safely cross Broadway and enter the park.
Before the group set off, Mayor Dennis Hanwell met with them briefly to provide information about cost as well as some of the technical specifics prepared by Pat Patton, city engineer.
The audible signals, funded through a community development block grant at a cost $29,700, were part of a citywide traffic signal upgrade about three years ago, Hanwell said, adding the two signals placed at a diagonal on the square give people better access to businesses and restaurants. The two additional signals on North Court Street — one at Northland Drive and one at Reagan Parkway — were placed in proximity to housing for residents with special needs to provide a safer approach for them to shopping areas.
Hanwell said the signals have been modified to be automatic instead of only being activated by pushing a button to help ease traffic congestion.
“The challenge is to balance traffic flow with the crosswalk signals, to keep the crosswalks safe but keep traffic moving,” he said.
Chatham Township resident Don Kalman, treasurer of Friends-N-Focus, explained the group approached City Council and former mayor Jane Leaver to encourage installation of the audible signals with CDBG funds.
“Mayor Leaver was all for it,” Kalman said, adding the group explained the signals also would be helpful to children who cross the streets on their way to school.
“Tools like the signals help keep us in the mainstream,” said Jean Mello of Brunswick, president of Friends-N-Focus. “We want mobility, to be able to go out as independently as possible. Don and our former president, Chuck Norman, petitioned the City Council on our behalf, told them our needs in getting around and facing traffic situations.”
Kalman encouraged Akron group members to be persistent and not to be discouraged in their own efforts to have similar devices installed in their areas.
“It took us about three years,” he said. “You just have to keep showing up.”
Contact Judy A. Totts at firstname.lastname@example.org.