Studies on Obtaining Assistance by Travelers Who Are Deaf-Blind

Article excerpt

Abstract: This article presents a brief history of crossing or assistance cards for travelers who are deaf-blind, along with two studies on variables that predict effective solicitation of assistance to cross a street, Although gender does not greatly affect efficiency, the larger size of a communication card positively influences the receipt of assistance.

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Although there is historical information that travelers who are deaf-blind have used communication cards for at least 70 years, no peer-reviewed studies have reported statistically significant results on the effectiveness of various designs of crossing or assistance cards for requesting or gaining assistance. Assistance gaining is the act of eliciting help from others for a specific task in response to an explicit request. Travelers who are deaf-blind often use communication interventions to interact with the public and solicit assistance and information (Bourquin & Sauerburger, 2005). Furthermore, considering noisy contemporary environments; changing environmental features, such as roundabouts; and increasingly quieter motor vehicles, there is potential for more travelers with visual impairments to seek assistance to cross streets. The field of orientation and mobility (O&M) has not always addressed these challenges for travelers, especially those with dual sensory impairments. A review of the often-used standard text for teaching O&M techniques (Hill & Ponder, 1976) revealed that many (30 of the 59) of the fundamental techniques that were described contain a component, prerequisite, or corequisite that involves audition or verbalization, including strategies for crossing some streets.

History of and literature on assistance gaining

The Industrial Home for the Blind (IHB) in Brooklyn, New York, began serving people who are deaf-blind about 1920 (Bettica, 1947; Schroeder, 1995). Recollections from professionals in the field of visual impairment regarding the personnel at IHB indicated that personnel began manufacturing the first cards for requesting assistance for street crossings between 1920 and 1945 (V. Male, personal communication, August 9, 2006; M. McGowan, personal communication, July 5, 2006; J. McNulty, personal communication, August 15, 2006). Webster's (1979) book explicitly dealt with the topic of street crossings, and Male's (1979) master's thesis reported that 3 x 5 index cards were the "ideal size" to "efficiently, effectively, and accurately communicate [travelers'] needs to the public" (V. Male, personal communication, August 9, 2006).

The 1980s saw various developments in the basic concept of assistance cards for travelers who were deaf-blind, which had become the standard intervention in O&M (S. LaGrow, personal communication, August 16, 2006). In the first edition of Foundations of Orientation and Mobility (Welsh & Blasch, 1980), Lolli (1980, p. 444) provided an example of an assistance card that read, "Could you please help me to cross Maple Street?" (see Figure 1 for an example of an early assistance card). In the same year, Primrose (1980) presented a paper at the Helen Keller Centennial Congress that reported on the state of the art of assistance gaining for pedestrians with concomitant vision and hearing losses. She described the use of crossing cards and a waiting time of several minutes for assistance, as well as frustration by travelers if they realized that some pedestrians passed without offering help.

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In 1988, the first article on the topic appeared in the Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness (DeFiore & Silver, 1988). It reported on a study of an alternate redesigned intervention with a single difference: The researchers increased the size of the print of the words CROSS THE STREET to 34 points from 24 points. The study used 60 trials in downtown Philadelphia, and the results indicated that the new print size elicited a mean response time of 13. …