P Street Construction a Challenge for the Blind

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With the P Street Construction project in downtown Lincoln still months away from it's completion date, some people may be counting down the days until it's done. That's especially true for one group who says the obstacles of navigating downtown are more than meets the eye.

As Jeff Altman and Jan Havranek walk down the halls of the Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired, the environment is safe. But that security is gone once they step foot outdoors.

"It gets a little scary," said Havranek, a student at the commission. "You have to know what you're doing and what you're navigating through."

Havranek takes classes with the commission and lives in a temporary student housing unit downtown.

For her, walking through the construction is inevitable.

"Probably the hardest part for me was when they were tearing up the streets and I couldn't hear the traffic," Havranek said. "There were some intersections where I would stand there for 15 minutes before I could cross the street because I just couldn't hear with the pounding of the cement."

Altman is a Cane Travel Instructor and said the blind rely on the sound of traffic to navigate the streets, but that sound is often masked by other noises.

"Compressors and jackhammers and things running can cause enough of a noise level that you can't hear the movement of traffic," said Altman.

And it's not just the sound of traffic they rely on. The direction in which it travels is also important.

"The traffic patterns are changed and we rely on the movement of traffic to help us line up to walk straight across the street," Altman said.

Time can also can be the longest distance between two places...

"A person that can see can walk up and look down to the end of the block and see if the pathway is blocked," said Altman. "For blind individuals, you're going to walk up there, discover it's blocked, then walk all the way back. You may have to walk 4 or 5 times as far."

While the commission hasn't filed a complaint with the City of Lincoln about the construction, City Ombudsman Lin Quenzer says it's still important for people to know where they can voice their concerns.

"On the city website we have a place where you can go every week and it tells you all of the street closures, and it has maps with it and everything," said Quenzer. "We also have a place to report if you feel that you've been the victim of discrimination by a department of city government or by city infrastructure like streets and sidewalks".

Altman and Havranek said they don't expect special treatment, and because of the skills they've learned throughout the years, P Street construction is nothing they can't handle.

"We love the intersections that they're putting in because they're squared off, they're easy to navigate, once they're open," said Havranek. But up until they get it finished, we'll just have to put up with the construction."

No residents have filed a complaint with the City of Lincoln or the Lincoln Commission for Human Rights since 2011 in regards to accessibility for the disabled.