Load shedding leaves blind in the lurch at traffic lights

Sergil January, left, and Khalid Adam at the pedestrian crossing in front of the Cape Town Society for the Blind.

Blind people are finding it a lot more dangerous trying to cross the road to get to and from the Cape Town Society for the Blind in Salt River when power cuts knock out the traffic lights.

The non-profit, which offers training and support to the blind is near two busy intersections between Salt River Circle and Main Road, and, according to Sergil January, an awareness officer at the society, blind people have a hard time crossing the road when the traffic lights no longer work during load shedding. And this is despite the presence of both a pedestrian crossing and signage warning motorists to exercise caution.

“During load shedding, we find that motorists are driving fast and not obeying the rules of the road, and since last November up until now we have had too many close calls.”

Khalid Adam, of Rylands, who visits the society for training, said he always asked for help when trying to cross the road during load shedding.

“I have only been blind for two years, so sometimes it’s still hard for me to hear which side the car is coming from when crossing the road.”

The traffic lights have audio signals that let blind pedestrians know when to cross, but these also don’t work during load shedding, and Mr Adam said that without them he found it hard to even locate the pedestrian crossing.

Mr January is appealing to the authorities to install rechargeable batteries in traffic lights in areas with high concentrations of people with disabilities.

South African Guide-Dogs Association mobility instructor Cheryl Robertson said motorists were taught to use traffic-light intersections as four-way stops during load shedding. “This makes it very difficult for a visually impaired person, or any person for that matter, to get a gap to cross the road.”

Many blind people relied on the audio signal and not the lights to know when to cross the road, she said, adding, “Even if some traffic lights do stay on during load shedding, a lot of the time the buzzers don’t work, which still makes it difficult for the guide dog owner to know when to cross the road.”

Mayoral committee member for urban mobility Rob Quintas said the intersections near the Cape Society for the Blind had been prioritised for uninterrupted power supplies.

“If all goes as planned, these installations will be done in the new financial year, starting at the beginning of July.”

City Traffic Service spokesman Kevin Jacobs said motorists should treat intersections as a four-way stop when the traffic lights were not working.

“We extend this caution to pedestrian crossings. Motorists are advised to slow down and check the surroundings when approaching a pedestrian crossing, and to be on the lookout for any person who may wish to cross the road, particularly considering that load-shedding can, at times, also affect signalised pedestrian crossings.”

Motorists are ignoring signage warning about the presence of blind people along a busy road in Salt River, says the Cape Town Society for the Blind.