Accessible Pedestrian Signals (APS) are devices that provide auditory, visual, and tactile information to pedestrians with vision and hearing loss so they can know when it is safe to cross at a signalized intersection. They essentially translate pedestrian warning signals to other sensory formats, enabling people with disabilities to navigate cities safely and comfortably.
Although APS have existed since the 1970s (with some devices dating back even earlier), they were not included in the Manual of Uniform Traffic Devices (MUTCD) until 2000. Since then, and compounded by an American Disability Act requirement for cities to develop “transition plans” to improve access to public spaces, their prevalence in the U.S. has and continues to grow.
A new kind of APS
The APS that are recommended today–push button-integrated, with locator tones, visual, audible, and vibrotactile indications–are markedly different from the overhead cuckoo-chirp signals found at many signalized crosswalks. Researchers have found that these two-tone, pedhead-mounted systems frequently lead to incorrect decisions about which street has the walk signal, along with a host of other issues.
By contrast, modern APS like Polara’s iDS are integrated into the push button station and installed adjacent to the crosswalk they signal. These APS provide audible indications (tone and/or speech message) from a speaker within the push button at a much lower volume than the cuckoo-chirp systems. They also provide vibrotactile indications, directional arrows, and other features that have been proven to help pedestrians with vision loss navigate crossings safely.
Functions and benefits of APS
The primary function of APS is to provide pedestrians who are blind, visually impaired, or deaf-blind with the same information that is readily available to their sighted counterparts. This includes things like the status of the walk signal (Walk, Don’t Walk, clearance), the direction of the crosswalk, the location of the destination curb, and the names of the intersecting streets.
The provision of this information, via audible and vibrotactile formats, has been shown to significantly improve crossing performance, enabling more accurate judgments of the onset of the walk phase, fewer crossings during the don’t walk phase, and significantly more crossings completed before the signal changed. At a higher level, it allows pedestrians with disabilities to move about, participate in, and enjoy their community–just like everyone else.
How Accessible Pedestrian Signals work
APS emit an intermittent beep or tick (known as a locator tone) that alerts visually impaired pedestrians to their presence and guides them toward the push button. Once they’ve reached the APS, they can use the raised tactile arrow on the push button to confirm their direction of travel and align themselves with the crosswalk. (This is especially helpful when there are two APS on a corner as it helps them select the right button to press and tune into.)
As soon as a pedestrian pushes the button, an audible message–”Wait”–will sound. This will repeat until the walk phase begins, marked by either a different audible message–“Walk sign is on”–or a rapid ticking sound (selected for its detectability in ambient traffic noise). The pushbutton arrow will also vibrate during the entire walk phase.
When the walk message turns off and the clearance phase (flashing “Don’t walk” sign) begins, the button can be set to play the locator tone, a different sound, or an audible countdown of how many seconds are left in the clearance phase. The cycle ends when the “Don’t walk” sign stops flashing and the locator tone resumes its beep or tick sound.
Why APS matter
At some point, nearly everyone will face an injury or disability that limits their mobility. Although APS are generally targeted toward people with vision loss, the fact is they benefit everyone, facilitating safe and independent movement through pedestrian networks regardless of age or ability, race or income. They are a key component of an accessible, inclusive transportation system.
All intersections with pedestrian signals should be upgraded to APS in order to create streets that are safe and accessible to everyone.
Take the next steps:
>>Visit our Accessible Pedestrian Signal Category Page
>>Visit our iDS/iNS product page
>>Read more about how to request an APS