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Orientation and Mobility

History of Pedestrian Signals

Traffic control signals began to appear on early American streets as early as the 1880’s, pioneered by such manufacturers as Streeter Amet, Crouse-Hinds, Sarasota Technologies, Traconex Corporation, Multisonics Corporation, Transyt, TCT, and many others. Reported in the United States as early as the 1920’s, audible pedestrian signals (APS) did not begin to populate the Canadian landscape until the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.

Initial Canadian installations comprised of a pedestrian activated pushbutton assembly mounted on a utility pole in close proximity to the “departure curb” of a marked crosswalk. Bird-type tones were emitted from a speaker mounted either atop the ped-head (the “walk/don’t walk” visual signal) or higher up the utility pole so as not to have the tones blocked by passing traffic.

The request for APS installations at specific locations usually originated from pedestrians who were blind or sight-impaired or by rehabilitation organizations providing service to these individuals. As a result, initial installations appeared in very close proximity to these rehabilitation venues and/or near schools dedicated to teaching blind students.

APS devices which produced two distinctly different tones a cuckoo tone for crossings in a north/south direction and a chirp tone for crossings in an east/west direction, were originally researched, developed and manufactured in Nagoya, Japan. These intermittent tones were emitted from the pole-mounted speaker(s) for a short duration to coincide with the illuminated “walk” signal from the ped-head. But early installations generated numerous complaints regarding the “offensive noise” being emitted by this new technology by residents who lived or worked in close proximity to these devices. To appease these neighbours, traffic engineers would respond by decreasing the volume of the “walk” tones. Unfortunately, this invoked counter-requests from pedestrians who had come to rely on these devices, asking the traffic engineers to increase the volumes as they were unable to hear or obtain any useful benefit from the device given its reduced volume levels. The tug of war had begun and traffic engineers were clearly caught in the middle!

As time marched on, other APS manufacturers began to introduce their products to Canada. These included products from manufacturers such as:

However, regardless of the manufacturer, all APS devices which employed a pole-mounted speaker above the crosswalk or roadway, addressed many of the frustrating issues for pedestrians who were blind or sight-impaired. These frustrations included, but were not limited to:

  • The two “walk” indication tones, although distinctly different, did not provide a clear indication of the direction of travel that they supported. Pedestrians would have to learn the difference, be acutely aware of their intended direction of travel and concentrate on which tone was being emitted by the APS device.
  • It required the pedestrian to know their direction of travel at all times.
  • Tones were emitted only during the “walk” interval. While the “walk” tone could often be heard above ambient traffic sound (if adjusted correctly) and often served as an orientation beacon during the street crossing, the lack of a tone during the “pedestrian clearance phase” left many pedestrians confused and uncertain about their ability to safely complete their crossing.
  • Early APS devices provided no information regarding the presence, location or need to activate a pushbutton.
  • Audible pedestrian signals did not provide any additional information regarding the crossing configuration, the names of the intersecting streets or other such information that is readily available to sighted pedestrians.

In the mid-to-late 1990’s, a few of the more innovative APS manufacturers began to address the numerous shortcomings of their audible pedestrian signal designs. A new generation of APS devices was emerging, modeled after the integrated designs being offered by European and Australian manufacturers. These new, integrated systems became quickly known as “accessible pedestrian signals”. These new accessible pedestrian signal devices (also tagged as “APS”) provided many attractive features through an integrated design which incorporated the output speaker into the pushbutton assembly. The primary advantage of this design is that it placed the speaker within the immediate proximity of the pedestrian who needed or relied on this device. It resulted in a significant reduction in the volume outputs which only needed to be heard by pedestrians who were within a 3.5 metre radius of the pushbutton assembly. Additional features include:

  • Vibro-tactile “walk” indication, operating in concert with an audible “walk” tone to assist pedestrians with diminished hearing or for those who are classified as deafblind
  • Subtle, low-volume pushbutton locator tone which cycles constantly, 30 to 60 times per minute to indicate a pushbutton needs to be activated and to assist the blind pedestrian to locate the pushbutton
  • A tactile arrow on the pushbutton assembly which points in the direction of travel associated with that particular pushbutton
  • Automatic volume adjustment to enable the APS device to respond to ambient traffic or other environmental sounds, thereby ensuring louder indications but only when ambient sounds are such that they would mask the output tones of the APS device
  • Voice messaging to provide critical information regarding complex intersection configurations and/or basic information such as the names of the intersecting streets.

Regardless of which APS device a city or municipality chooses to use, we will work collaboratively to ensure the implementation of a uniform “standard” is met. To that end, Access for Sight-Impaired Consumers has joined other national and provincial consumer organizations in endorsing a position statement on accessible pedestrian signals. This position statement fits within the Transportation Association of Canada’s Guidelines for the Installation and Implementation of Accessible Pedestrian Signals. However, it goes one step further and details the configuration that the national and provincial consumer organizations promote in order to develop consistency in APS operations.

Accessible Pedestrian Signal Manufacturers

We are pleased to provide the contact information and a brief introduction to each of the leading accessible pedestrian signal manufacturers. In doing so, Access for Sight-Impaired Consumers does not endorse any one manufacturer over another.

  • Campbell Company 211 West 37th Street, Suite C Boise Idaho 83706

    Dick Campbell founded Campbell Company in 1972. Campbell Company was a subsidiary of H.D. Campbell, an electrical components distributing company. Campbell Company was founded solely to provide products to the traffic industry.

    Dick was one of the first to supply the traffic industry with a reliable 2 inch ADA compliant pedestrian push button. Other products built on common sense that provided high value to the owners of the intersections were soon to follow.

    Dick’s tradition continues today. Each product manufactured by the company is initiated on the concept of value, utility, and durability. This is evident in the innovativeness of the products they manufacture and supply to the traffic industry.

  • Mallory Sonalert Products, Inc . 7545 Rockville Road Indianapolis, IN 46214
    Mallory Sonalert Products, Inc. is a technology-driven manufacturer of high-performance audible alarm devices. They manufacture and distribute the Sonalert® brand of electronic audible alarms. Sonalert® is recognized around the world as the standard in audible alarms and other board-level audible devices such as transducers, indicators and sirens.
    With one of the most extensive product offerings available, Mallory delivers sound solutions to customers in a variety of industrial, consumer, transportation, medical, and military markets.
  • Novax Industries Corporation 658 Derwent Way New Westminster BC V3M 5P8, Canada
    For more than two decades, Novax Industries Corporation has designed and manufactured industry-leading products that have improved vehicular flow and the safety of drivers, passengers and pedestrians.
  • Panich Consultancy Pty. Ltd. 48 Church Street, PO Box 360 Ryde NSW 2112, Australia
    Bob Panich Consultancy Pty Ltd is a Quality Endorsed Company with international, local and interstate clients including Telstra and NDC, the NSW SRA, NSW RTA and the Traffic Authorities throughout Australia.
  • Peek Traffic Corporation 2906 Corporate Way Palmetto, FL 34221

    Peek Traffic and U.S. Traffic were purchased by the Houston, Texas based firm Signal Group, Inc. in July of 2008, from the previous owners, Quixote Corporation. Signal Group owns several companies involved in the traffic control, signalling and traffic safety industries.

    Currently, the Signal Group includes Peek Traffic, US Traffic, Rayolite Corporation – Manufacturers of raised pavement markers and Hallen Products, Ltd, – Makers of the IronStar line of snowplow safe roadway markers.
    Signal Group is a division of the multinational corporation Grupo Signal, which also owns a variety of firms in Mexico and throughout Latin America. Grupo Signal provides traffic equipment and services globally, with installations in North and South America, Europe, and Asia.
  • Polara Engineering Inc. 9153 Stellar Court Corona, CA 92883
    In 1996, after 30 years devoted primarily to electronic product design and manufacturing, Polara Engineering Incorporated divided its delay line and electromagnetic component manufacturing into a separate division in order to focus on the issues of Equal Access to Information and Freedom of Mobility for all people. In its quest to provide all people with Equal Access to Information at signalized intersections, Polara Engineering introduced its first accessible signal in 1997. In 1999, after 3 years of research and development, Polara released The Navigator II Accessible Pedestrian Signal (APS), a highly reliable, vandal resistant Accessible Pedestrian Signal that provides a vibro-tactile ADA compliant 2 inch push button with a raised directional arrow and audible tones and optional messages during all the pedestrian cycles. In August of 2003 Polara once again raised the bar for APS’s by introducing the 2 Wire Navigator System. They’ve continued to innovate ever since. Their latest products can be found on the Polara product page.
  • Prisma Teknik AB P.O. Box 5 , S-543 21 Tibro, Sweden
    Prisma Teknik has 20 years’ experience of developing and manufacturing unique, high-quality products with advanced and reliable technology. Their three product areas are pedestrian signals, deflection indicators and push buttons. Prisma Teknik is a Swedish-owned family business located in Tibro, Sweden, operating in some 60 markets around the world.
  • Wilcox Sales 1738 Finecroft Drive Claremont, CA 91711

Digital Signs

  • STEP-HEAR Ltd. develops and markets innovative assistive technologies for persons with disabilities. The evolution of assistive technologies for people who are blind or sight impaired that started at the end of the last century (the Braille language, 1827) opened the doors to exciting new prospects for the present day. There are now an array of devices that can alleviate the difficulties in orientation and mobility caused by visual impairment. Step-Hear offers an interesting solution to digital sign technology.
  • The Talking Signs system consists of short audio signals sent by invisible infrared light beams from permanently installed transmitters to a hand-held receiver that decodes the signal and delivers the voice message through its speaker or headset. This is the first infrared system to work effectively in both interior and exterior applications. To use a Talking Signs® system, the user scans the environment with the hand-held receiver. As individual signals are encountered, the user hears the messages. For example, upon entering a lobby, one might detect “information and security desk” when pointing the receiver directly ahead, “to elevators and public telephones” when pointing to the right and “stairs up to second floor” when pointing to the left. Messages are unique and short, simple and straight forward. The messages repeat, continuously identifying key features in the environment.


  • World Access for the Blind – a non-profit organization, uses a modern, no-limits approach to equalize opportunities for the success of blind people.

Global Positioning System (GPS)

A brief summary: Mike May and Charles LaPierre began working on the first accessible GPS prototype at Arkenstone in 1994. It was called Strider and was terminated in 1997. A related talking map product called Atlas was released for the PC in 1995 and was sold through 2001. Sendero released the first accessible GPS called, GPS-Talk for the PC in 2000. A year later, Sendero teamed up with Humanware with the first accessible GPS on a PDA, the BrailleNote. That product has continued to evolve as other products joined the market Sendero was creating. StreetTalk VIP from Freedom Scientific using Sendero GPS was released in Summer 2009.
After over a decade of experience, Sendero expanded from the BrailleNote to three other platforms with its Software Development Kit (SDK). HIMS from Korea adopted this SDK for their Braille Sense and Voice Sense PDAs with a product called Sense Nav. Freedom Scientific adopted this SDK for their PacMate with a product called StreetTalk VIP GPS (discontinued).
Code Factory, who makes a screen reader for mobile phones and Windows PDAs, worked with Sendero to create Mobile Geo, released in September 2008.
In 2010, Sendero expanded again on their available platforms and added Sendero Maps for the PC, for virtual exploration and Sendero LookAround GPS app for the iPhone and Android.
In addition to the six Sendero based GPS products there is one stand-alone Trekker product from HumanWare. Finally, there is a point of interest only product for mobile phones called Loadstone. It has no street maps, only points of interest created by users or public domain points. The great thing for blind people is that there are options to fit a variety of needs and wayfinding situations.
If you are in the market for a blind-friendly GPS application, we would recommend visiting accessible GPS products web page prior to any purchase.
  • HumanWare is proud to announce the release of the new version of the GPS orientation system most used by blind people in the world. Trekker 3.0 boasts an array of new features, including using multiple GPS maps, maps covering wider areas, turn by turn instructions guidance while in a vehicle, capabilities to handle various sources of points of interest, and other innovations providing more information.
  • Sendero Group are the developers of the first accessible GPS and talking map software. GPS products “Powered by Sendero” software provide access to detailed street and business location information. The blind traveler can now be a co-pilot , not just a passive passenger in a car. He or she can keep the taxi driver honest, enjoy hearing about the sites and businesses being passed and know independently when to get off the bus. Students can also chart custom routes across campus or hikers can do the same in the woods.

    Sendero Group began developing accessible GPS in 1993 and their software is now at the core of 4 of the 6 accessible GPS systems such as BrailleNote, Mobile Geo, Braille Sense and the Pac Mate/StreetTalk. Sendero sells these GPS products and their host devices plus the Miniguide, i.d. mate OMNI, Talks, Mobile Speak, KNFB Mobile Reader and VictorReader Stream.

    Sendero staff, most of whom are visually impaired, know from personal and professional experience that orientation and mobility skills and tools for blind folks are key to enjoyment and success in all walks of life.
  • TalkNav is a high quality, durable and sophisticated GPS Blue Tooth receiver that comes with Wayfinder Access, the World’s first uniquely designed satellite navigation solution for people who are blind or sight-impaired. This gives a TalkNav user the highest chance of finding their way from A to B with the greatest of ease, simplicity, freedom and flexibility.

Mobility Aids

  • Advantage Canes produce long and folding carbon-fibre graphite mobility canes measuring 20 to 60 inches in length. Canes longer than 60 inches are available as a custom order. Graphite canes are approximately 20% lighter than aluminum canes. Unlike their aluminum counterparts, graphite canes will bend and flex but will not remain bent as is the case with the aluminum cane. Various tips are available with your order and should a section of your folding cane be broken, repairs can be performed.
  • AmbuTech and RNIBare proud to announce a new affordable electronic travel aid solution for head and upper body protection. The iGlasses Ultrasonic Mobility Aid is a head-mounted device which enables more informed, confident, and efficient pedestrian travel. Objects in your path are detected by the ultrasonic sensors and communicated via gentle vibrations. As obstacles get nearer the frequency of the vibration will increase. The device is intended as a secondary mobility device to complement the traditional long cane or guide dog.
  • AmbuTech is an excellent source for various mobility aids such as aluminum, fiberglass and graphite canes – both long and folding design. They also offer a variety of cane tips and other mobility aids.
  • Vendors and/or sources for other mobility products can be found on our Consumer Products page.
  • Independent cane travelers may wish to research and consider the acquisition of a trusted and loyal guide dog partner to enhance their mobility. We have made this task much easier by providing you with direct links to the numerous guide dog schools.
  • Talking PC Maps, a joint venture of American Printing House for the Blind and the Sendero Group LLC, provides spoken and on-screen map data and 12 million points of interest for US states, territories, and Canada on one flash drive. It speaks on any Windows computer, whether or not the computer has screen reading software installed.

    This software does not give information about a user’s actual physical location as it is not a GPS system. Instead, it provides a verbal description of physical space and what it contains. It gives persons who are blind or sight-impaired the same information available to sighted persons through incidental learning when they look at maps, street signs, and signage on buildings.

    This software helps you:
    • virtually explore streets and learn their layout by moving to the next intersection or by making left or right turns
    • set a destination and track the distance and compass heading to that destination
    • save, reverse, review, and print or emboss pedestrian or vehicle routes
    • track the side of the street you are virtually walking on, and make realistic decisions about turns and street crossings required to navigate to a destination
    • record or type descriptive information about a particular intersection, parking lot, building, or other location; and attach that information so that you can access it when you explore the map.
    Talking PC Maps software, along with a User’s Guide, is delivered on a USB flash drive. Technology-savvy students and adults can use this software with little assistance.