Nowadays when we think of the term "APS" images of Apple products spring to mind. But these aren't the kind of APS we're talking about here. What I'm referring to is Accessible Pedestrian Signals. They allow a person who is blind to cross intersections with relative safety. I say relative, as one still needs to know where they wish to go and how to interpret the audio cues provided by the Accessible Pedestrian Signals.
What's up with the beeps, chirps and coocoos, and why don't I hear them all the time?
Accessible Pedestrian Signals come in a variety of flavours and sound cues.
automatic vs. Manual operation
When the signals are programmed for automatic operation, a coocoo sound begins when it is safe to cross in a north south direction while a chirp sound indicates an east/west crossing. These audio cues occur for each crossing cycle automatically and require no manual intervention from the user to activate the safe to cross sound cues.
In manual mode, it is necessary to press and hold the button for 3 seconds in order to activate the sound cues for the direction in which you are travelling. The Accessible pedestrian Signal is then activated for the next crossing cycle.
You may have noticed when approaching an intersection you here a Beep, Beep, sound. This beeping occurs at approximately one second intervals. The locator tone serves two purposes.
First, the tone lets you know that an Accessible Pedestrian Signal is available at this intersection, and second the tone aids a blind person to locate the button to press to activate the accessible Pedestrian signal crossing sound cues. Yes, we're back to those coocoos and chirps aren't we?
Curious to try out the APS yourself? Here are the steps. This assumes the APS ARE IN MANUAL OPERATION MODE.
- Press and hold the button for 3 seconds until you here a click, or feel a slight kickback vibration under your finger. (More about the vibration in a minute.) You have now activated the APS for the next crossing cycle. Depending on which direction you are walking will determine which sound you here, generally it is the coocoo for north/south, and chirp for east/west.
- When you here the APS sound, you may begin your street crossing.
There are two things to note:
- If you wish to cross the adjacent street you will need to press and hold the button again to activate the APS for that direction.
- The signals are only active for one crossing cycle so on your return trip you will need to press the button once again to activate the APS. This pressing the button each time is quite honestly a bit of a drag from a blindness perspective, as there may be other people standing in front of the button waiting to cross, making it difficult to reach over and press it, or directing your dog to find it, if you have self taught your dog to do this. In the city of Toronto at least, it is a compromise solution in order that residents are not disturbed by the crossing signals occurring automatically, particularly at night. There may be other work-arounds to this, such as having the signals on a timer so they would activate during the day, though not at night while nearby residents are sleeping.
What's the vibration thing?
As you lightly touch the button while the crossing signal is active, you may notice a slight vibration under your finger. This vibratactile indication allows a person with limited hearing to know when it is safe to cross the street. All sounds associated with the current APS have the vibratactile feature.
Advocacy and APS
Several Canadian cities have a process where you can report a problem with an existing APS installation or request that APS be installed at a specific intersection. Your best bet is to contact your local traffic engineering department to learn the policy for your municipality.
What's next for APS?
In some installations audio messages have been added that announce the street name and walk/don't walk information. This is a handy wayfinding tool as the name of the street crossing is announced when you press the button to activate the APS. . to hear a sample of what APS sound like visit
Want to know more about accessible pedestrian signals? Check out the links below for more information.
Guidelines for Understanding, Use and Implementation of Accessible Pedestrian Signals
City of Toronto: Accessible Pedestrian Signals
Information Regarding Accessible Pedestrian Signals - overview
Accessible Pedestrian Signals: Chapter 4: Features of APS
About Accessible Pedestrian Signals
Happy travels, and I'll see you on the other side of the street.