Blind World Magazine

The signal with sound has taken the dangerous guesswork out of shopping trips.

June 16, 2005., Pennsylvania.

Lower Makefield - A talking traffic light has made the nearly sightless world of Carol Rossi a little safer.

The Lower Makefield woman, almost completely blind because of a progressive optical disease called retinitis pigmentosa, can now make her frequent walking trips to the nearby Big Oak shopping center with more peace of mind.

An audible pedestrian signal recently installed on Big Oak Road near the center tells Rossi through a recorded voice when it's safe to cross. It then counts down 10 seconds to let her know how long she has to cross.

"It's great," said Rossi, 66, who lives in the Bexley Orchards development about a mile from the shopping center. "Before, I would press the button to get the walking light, but there was no way to tell for sure when it came on or how long it was on. I would just listen for when all the traffic stopped. Then, if I heard it start up again, I would just run like hell to get across the street, or at least as fast as I could with a cane."

The signal with sound has taken the dangerous guesswork out of Rossi's shopping trips. She and a group of neighbors tried it out last weekend. She is planning another trip this weekend; this time, alone.

"One of my daughters does a lot of my grocery shopping, but she'll be away this week, so I'll probably go through the SuperFresh up there," said Rossi. "I also like to go up there to get my hair done or get some pizza with my grandchildren. This light is great because I'm an independent person and like to do as much as I can for myself, and this will make a big difference."

The center, at Big Oak and Oxford Valley roads, also includes a Kohl's department store.

Rossi had tried for many years to get an audible traffic signal but didn't start making progress until about two years ago when she discussed the matter during a yard sale with Christa McConaghy, head of the Bexley Orchards Neighborhood Watch.

Another neighborhood watch member, Steve Andrews, contacted the Lower Makefield Disabled Persons Advisory Board, which brought Rossi's plight to the attention of the township supervisors. After clearing it with PennDOT since Big Oak is a state road, they awarded a $6,812 contract for installation of the light earlier this year.

"When Carol told me the story about running like hell to get across the street at times, I knew we had to get something done," said Andrews. "Carol is fiercely independent and this will give her that much more assurance she can get up to the shopping center for groceries, get her hair done or whatever else she needs."

Dave Rogers, chairman of the Disabled Persons Advisory Board, said that group was happy to help.

"It's just the kind of thing we were created for," he said. "We got tremendous support from the supervisors, particularly Scott Fegley, the supervisors' liaison to our board."

Philip Strong, spokesman for the American Council of the Blind in Washington, said traffic signals exist that make it safer for people who are both blind and deaf to cross intersections. His group is working toward legislation that would make that capability mandatory on all new traffic lights, Strong said.

"These kinds of accessible signals are popping up more often as traffic engineers get more educated about their potential," he said.

Chris English can be reached at 215-949-4193 or

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