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Nov. 5, 2001


Contact: University Relations (517) 355-2281, or


EAST LANSING, Mich. - With the help of state-of-the-art pedestrian crossing signals, the Michigan State University campus is now a safer place for visually impaired persons - and the university is receiving recognition for its efforts.

In August 2000, in partnership with Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr & Huber Inc. (FTC&H) of Lansing, the university installed accessible pedestrian signals (APS) at the Shaw Lane intersections with Chestnut and Red Cedar roads.

This fall, MSU won top honors in the Personal Mobility category in the first da Vinci Awards, sponsored by the General Motors Corp. Other sponsors of the award included DaimlerChrysler, Ford Motor Co. and the Lear Corp.

The awards recognize individuals, organizations and/or corporations in the engineering, construction and technical fields for innovations to improve accessibility for people with disabilities.

"It was an honor to receive the award," said Michael Hudson, director of MSU's Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities (RCPD). "We're always pleased to be the first to initiate a helpful idea."

Hudson pioneered the effort to bring the APS system to MSU. Previously, it had not been used outside of California.

The signals work as follows: As a pedestrian approaches the intersection, the signal emits a beep, which guides the person to push a button to activate the signal. After the button is pushed, the signal provides both a verbal indication of the visual crossing indicator as well as a tactile feedback of the crossing opportunity through a slight vibration of the button itself.

The new signals are an improvement over previously implemented signals, Hudson said, as they provide verbal messages, rather than just tonal signals, and tactile feedback, which helps those with both visual and hearing disabilities.

The signals also provide all users with important confirmation that their button press requesting a crossing was recorded through visual, auditory and tactile confirmation of the button press. During quiet times the signals produce very little sound but can instantly raise sound levels to accommodate background noise from cars and heavy equipment.

"We want to make the intersections safe, especially in an area like Shaw Lane, which is a center of campus activity," Hudson said.

Shaw Lane is one of the busiest streets on MSU's campus with as many as 22,000 cars traveling it daily in addition to bicycle and pedestrian traffic.

The audible signals are a product of Polara Engineering in Fullerton, Calif. Initially, bringing the California-made signals to MSU was a problem because they were not built to handle Michigan's extreme weather.

With recommendations from Dennis Hansen of MSU Campus Park and Planning, Polara re-engineered the signal housings to endure the Michigan weather, including weatherproofing the speaker that emits the voice message.

Virginia Martz, a blindness/visual impairment specialist at RCPD who works with visually impaired students, said she has received extensive positive feedback. There are more than 35 students on campus with varying levels of sight impairment.

"They like it quite a lot," she said. "Students want to know what the status of the light is, so they can decide when it is safe to cross."