If that Braille message on the e-scooter you rented gave you pause, rest assured, it’s not “how-to-ride” instructions.
No, blind people aren’t riding scooters. They do, however, need to know how to contact the scooter companies when they encounter the devices, which present a hazard when left lying around.
“We may not ride it, but if we trip over it, we can read the Braille on it and find out who to report it to,” said Shawn Callaway, president of the D.C. Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind. “We want the Braille on them to identify the company and their contact information.”
Some companies, including Lyft and Lime, are retrofitting their scooters with the information, conforming with local policies that require the Braille message and growing demand from advocates for people with disabilities that the information be accessible.
As the micromobility services expand, advocates have been pushing the industry to include company information that is available to the general public on the devices — such as a phone number or email address — in Braille, too. And more local governments are making it a requirement for companies.
In the Washington region, Montgomery County requires companies to comply with all federal, state and local requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act. The county specifically mandates that devices have permanently affixed tactile information “to enable blind and visually-impaired individuals to identify the ownership of each vehicle and provide for their direct communication with Participating Company via telephone, email or website.”
Maureen McNulty, a spokeswoman for the Montgomery Department of Transportation, said she can understand that the Braille on e-scooters may confuse people, but in requiring the devices to have the embossed messages, the county is ensuring that visually impaired residents have the tools they need to report problems.
“We hope that all users will park e-scooters correctly,” she said. But when they don’t, “this regulation is intended to provide some agency to the visually impaired if an e-scooter should become a tripping hazard.”
Nationwide, the blind community has raised concerns about the impact the rapid proliferation of scooters is having on the mobility of blind and low-vision people. Local and national groups have pointed to increased hazards from scooters being carelessly left on sidewalks, bus stops and other locations where pedestrians travel.
“These scooters are virtually silent when in use, making it impossible for those using nonvisual means of travel to detect them,” the National Federation for the Blind said in a resolution it passed last month.
The organization called on Congress to set a minimum sound standard for dockless electric scooters and on state and local governments “to enact laws regulating scooter use to control parking, prohibit riding on sidewalks, and generally avoid disrupting the flow of pedestrian traffic.” Scooter companies, the group said, should do their part and “place their company name, scooter identification number, and contact information on each scooter in a format accessible and easily detectable by the blind;” they should also “develop accessible websites and mobile applications so that blind pedestrians can easily communicate reports of misuse or injury.” In a letter to Maryland lawmakers this year, the state chapter of the National Federation of the Blind delivered the same message.
Callaway said there is consensus among activists nationwide that action is required because scooters have become a hazard for pedestrians and even more so for the blind.
“These dockless bikes and scooters have not been a friend of the blind community. They are hazardous. People leave them in the middle of the sidewalk, so it is quite dangerous,” he said. “It’s all about inclusion and safety.”
Some companies say they are considering adding the Braille message on all their scooters, not just where they are required to.
Lime, a global e-scooter company with a strong presence in the D.C. area, began to add Braille messages to its scooters in Chicago in June, then followed with its devices in other jurisdictions, including Montgomery County. The company said it is also enhancing training of its customer service team to ensure timely responses to accessibility-related reports.
“Lime is committed to working with people with disabilities and disability-rights organizations to make our products and services more accessible, while also addressing challenges that result from this new mode of transportation in a city’s public right of way,” the company said in a statement. “We’ll continue to make this a priority while reminding riders to park scooters out of the path of those walking or using wheelchairs.”
Lyft scooters in the Washington area also carry a Braille message with the company contact information.