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Woman says city drivers need to recognize blind

April 09, 2000|By BRENDAN KIRBY

Having recently lost her vision, Vivian Lantz is trying to learn how to negotiate the streets of Hagerstown with a white cane.

So far, she has had to dodge a persistent enemy - motorists.

Lantz, who lives in the Alexander House on West Washington Street, said she was nearly hit by three vehicles in about a half an hour on Wednesday during her first day with the cane in downtown.

"All three drivers were not teenagers. They were older drivers," she said.

The Department of Rehabilitative Services trains the sight-impaired. Blind people use white canes to make their way around town. The canes are supposed to tip off drivers that those pedestrians cannot see well.

"You don't see many white canes around here. I don't think a lot of people really know what white canes mean," Lantz said.

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Lantz, 55, developed vision problems as a result of diabetes. Legally blind, she said she can see shapes but not details.

The sight of oncoming vehicles, which she said often do not obey crosswalk markings or heed white canes, is a frightening blur.

"These crosswalks are dangerous, I think," she said. "I'm afraid somebody's going to get hurt. I think Hagerstown needs a waking up."

Hagerstown City Police Chief Arthur R. Smith said he thinks the public needs to be educated on the subject.

"They should keep an eye on those folks," he said.

Smith said he does not know if there is an enforcement solution.

"That is the kind of thing you need to deal with, with education. I don't think it's a case of people trying to commit a violation," he said. "They're just not used to looking for these white canes."

Smith also predicted Lantz will become more adept at making her way around as she practices. He said a friend of his who was blinded by a gunshot to the head reported becoming much more comfortable as more time passed.

Police Lt. Jack Moulton, who sits on the Washington County Traffic Committee, told Lantz he would bring up the issue at the organization's next meeting.

He said he does not know how widespread the problem is.

"So far, that is the only complaint I've had on that," he said.

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