“We need the ability to cross the street before we can march down them.”

Callum McMenamin, a client of Blind Low Vision NZ, has been campaigning for faster action on pedestrian crossings in Wellington where the audio signals aren’t working or are too quiet. He has recently featured on Stuff and the NZ Herald on this issue. We spoke to him about his motivations for speaking out and the power of personal advocacy.

1. What made you want to take action on the issue of silent or quiet pedestrian crossings?

I decided to speak out about this issue because it poses a threat to life; for myself, and others with visual impairment. If we do not advocate for change, it will never happen. I worry that if we allow our society to fall into a state of apathy regarding accessible infrastructure, using our cities will become a never-ending exercise in avoiding natural selection. I believe it’s about time for people with disabilities to pull down the barriers that hold us back. The ‘invisible hand’ that pushes us down.

2. You moved to Wellington from Christchurch – how did Wellington pedestrian crossings compare with those in Christchurch?

In Christchurch, I probably noticed one or two silent crossings while I lived there for about 4 years. In Wellington, the problem is much more severe. I estimated that about 10% of the pedestrian crossing signals were silent in important areas of the Wellington CBD.

3. Has any action been taken as a result of the media attention?

I have had a meeting with Councillor Rebecca Matthews, which I felt went well. I have been told an audit of Wellington CBD’s pedestrian crossing signals has been performed, and silent crossings have been fixed. However after inspecting the crossings myself, that wasn’t the case. I made an individual complaint about one and it took eight days for it to be repaired.

4. What work are you doing with the Wellington City Council to ensure blind and low vision pedestrians are safe?

I’m meeting with Councillor Rebecca Matthews again to discuss the issue further. Eight days to respond to a complaint about a specific silent crossing is unacceptable. Auckland Transport has a policy to fix such issues within five hours. I think there needs to be a commitment to adopting and rigorously enforcing city planning standards nationwide, which ensure safe pedestrian infrastructure no matter what council’s jurisdiction you find yourself in.

5. What advice would you give to other people who are blind and low vision who want to fix an access issue that they and others are experiencing?

I believe that if we want to achieve equal civil rights; we research how other mistreated sections of society achieved more equal rights and treatment. Whether it be discrimination on the basis of gender, race, or sexuality. Follow in their footsteps. It requires organisation, as a first step. My voice alone isn’t enough – and our pedestrian audio signals are just one small puzzle piece in the wider issue of ableism. Once we can cross the streets – we gain the ability to march down them.

Blind Low Vision NZ advice on personal accessibility advocacy:

1. Identify the access issue you are facing.

2. Contact the authority who has the power to fix the issue and inform them of the problem. For example, the Wellington City Council. If you don’t hear back from them, or the response does not fix your access need tell your story. For example, Callum told his story through Twitter, which was then picked up by national media.

3. Amplify your voice – Blind Low Vision NZ is a proud member of the Access Alliance campaigning for accessibility legislation to be introduced in 2020. Join thousands of Kiwis wanting this country to be fully accessible for everyone. Blind Citizens NZ also advocates on blindness related issues and is working towards New Zealand become a fully inclusive society.