Blind man shares accessibility concerns on YouTube, gets city attention

(ABC 6 News) – Rochester’s skyways come in handy during less than ideal weather conditions. But for those who are handicapped, some say the skyways aren’t always a good thing.

Chris Mathews has been partially blind all his life. Born prematurely, there was too much oxygen in his incubator, causing blood vessels to burst in his eyes. In his nearly 25-minute YouTube video, Chris shows the difficulty he has navigating downtown.

“I just wanted to highlight some of the things I experience the most often. I guess I would hope some people would see those and maybe even just be willing to have an open-ended conversation,” said Mathews. “And ask questions to those of us with mobility challenges to say ‘why doesn’t this work for you?'”

His plan is working. The city of Rochester reached out to Chris asking how the city can be more accessible.

“To see other people’s perspectives and how they navigate our built environment. I think it’s important to hear those perspectives and take into account when we’re designing and constructing. Especially our downtown,” said Josh Johnsen, the strategic initiatives director with the city of Rochester.

And it’s not just the skyways. Peace Plaza’s uneven sidewalks and construction are also creating challenges. The city is working to fix that too.

“So the city, as we replace and do maintenance on our traffic signals, we are including auditory signals on our crosswalks,” added Johnsen.

Those crosswalks won’t all be changed at once. For now, the city is focusing on the busiest areas for walkers and upgrading stoplights that are already going through maintenance. The hope is that adding sound will help people like Chris simply get around better.

“With accessibility, I think the problem most of the time is not we don’t want to make things accessible, it’s we didn’t realize where that problem was and why it affects somebody,” Mathews added.

The next step is to get the city even more information about what Chris experiences on a day-to-day basis. They’re going to walk around together and talk so they can take this even further.