The federal government should cut off money for the Baltimore subway system because it uses $48,000 worth of beepers to help blind riders locate subway doors, the Maryland chapter of the National Federation of the Blind said yesterday.
In a complaint to the U.S. Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board, the group said the beepers were gimmicks of "no practical use to anyone," and would create "attitude" barriers that would cause Baltimoreans to think blind people are helpless.
"Sighted employers and employes who ride the subway every day will be reminded as they listen to the beepers that blind persons are 'different' and unable to compete or to function in the real world," said the group's president, Jim Omvig, a lawyer with the Social Security Administration. Omvig, who noted he and many other blind people have ridden subways in New York and Chicago, said the noise the doors make normally, as well as the crowd movement and noises, are sufficient cues.
The group filed the complaint against the Maryland Board of Public Works and the Metropolitan Transit Authority in Baltimore. Members of the group had met with both agencies in the past in an attempt to silence the beepers.
David Wagner, administrator of MTA, said the beepers were included after meetings with the transportation committee of the Maryland Rehabilitation Counseling Association in 1972. He said the devices cost $675 per car and in a letter to the group, he said, "This feature cannot be deleted at this time."
Sandy Koester, secretary to the Board of Public Works, said the board overruled the group's complaint last month. "We discussed it at two of our meetings. The MTA made it clear that safety was more important than anything." She said the group "apparently does not speak for all blind people in Maryland. You try to please everybody, and you end up stepping on someone's toes."