A blind man crossed the street after activating the APS aBeacon with a remote control

Will Remote Activation Become the Norm for Accessible Pedestrian Signals?

Without pushbutton, there are no accessible pedestrian signals. That’s how APS work in the U.S. But more and more cities have been exploring remote activation like New York City. The Department of Transportation tested our accessible pedestrian signal aBeacon, an APS that can be activated with a remote control. 

Blind and visually impaired who used the system were impressed by the remote activation. Although Americans with visual impairments have been using the pushbutton for years, the success of the remote control could be its downfall. After all, remote activation is already part of many countries across the world.

What if the era of the pushbutton was over? How come the pushbutton isn’t as accessible as we think it is? Why does remote activation represent such a game-changer for cities and users alike?

Blind and visually impaired New Yorkers favored the remote control to activate our accessible pedestrian signal

As part of a call for innovation, we set up 8 aBeacons, our accessible pedestrian signals, at the intersection of 6th Avenue and West 25th Street in Manhattan. Blind and visually impaired testers could cross the 4 crossings of the intersection. 

The NYCDOT conducted a different series of tests with 30 blind and visually impaired people who were all tech savvy. They were shown how to use our remote control beforehand. They just had to cross the street using their own navigational skills as they do everyday. 

How does the remote control work?

aBeacons were mounted on poles. When activated, they would give users audio information about the WALK signal, the flashing DON’T WALK signal and the solid DON’T WALK signal.

Although the aBeacons could be connected to the pushbutton, what interested us and the New York City’s Department of Transportation was the remote activation with a fob. 

With our remote control, blind and visually impaired users can trigger the APS on both sides of the crossing with just one button and also set up their volume.

When they press the button, the aBeacons of the crossing provide information about the street name. This gives directions to pedestrians to make sure they’re on the right path to reach their destination. The street names are repeated a second time which enables users to press the button to activate the selected crossing.

Thanks to this system, pedestrians with visual impairments can know:

What’s the intersection like: when the aBeacons give information about the street names, users can have a mental representation of the intersection.

Where they are on it: the information provided can reassure them they’re at the right place or they can readjust if they’re not.

They don’t have to perfectly know the intersection beforehand. Remote activation can help them find their bearings and cross the intended crossing.

With a remote control they have with them whenever they get around, they gain time. No need to feel around the pole to locate the pushbutton.

What did blind and visually impaired users like exactly about the remote control?

User feedback about the remote control was positive:

The remote control was easy to use: it only had 2 important buttons (play and stop).

They received more information about the intersection than they usually do from the regular APS alone.

Thanks to the sound corridor, users could hear the aBeacon on the opposite side of the crossing and maintain a straight line of travel.

They liked that the remote control had a wrist string band: their hand was free once they had activated the APS.

The remote control vibrated when users were getting nearer to a crossing equipped with APS.

The drawbacks of the pushbutton

Now that we’ve seen that the remote control received positive feedback from users, we can only but wonder if the pushbutton has turned obsolete.

It is an essential part of accessible pedestrian signals but it doesn’t mean it’s perfect. Let’s have a look at its drawbacks.

Difficulty to locate the pushbutton

How can you find the pushbutton when you can’t use your eyes? It’s difficult for blind and visually impaired pedestrians to locate the pushbutton on the pole when there’s no locator tone. 

Continuous noise pollution

But the presence of a locator tone means continuous noise pollution. For the neighborhood, this is less than ideal.

Unhygienic to touch

Due to COVID-19, touching a pushbutton can be unsafe and unhygienic. Not just for blind and visually impaired pedestrians but all of them. 

When coronavirus was at its peak, many U.S. cities deactivated their pushbuttons to prevent people from touching potential infected surfaces.

Find out more information about the pushbutton with this article:

How Accessible Are the Audible Pedestrian Pushbuttons of Your Crossings?

Those three elements can easily be answered with remote activation. This explains why the remote control gained favor among the testers in New York City. 

The ultimate guide to accessible pedestrian signals. I want it!

Is remote activation for APS such a novelty?

Contrary to what it may seem, remote activation isn’t new. In France, it has even been in place for almost 30 years and is entirely part of the whole APS system. 

Remote activation in France

The current French system of APS was invented in 1993 by us. Now known as Okeenea, we used to be called EO Guidage. 

Our accessible pedestrian signals consist of a circuit board connected to a radio receiver to activate them and of a speaker for sound broadcasting.

The remote control has been part of our system since the beginning. It’s similar to the one we developed for our aBeacons in New York City and very easy to use for the visually impaired. 

In France, we don’t use pushbuttons to actuate APS. We use them to signal our need to cross the street. This means that pushbuttons are used by all types of pedestrians.

Blind and visually impaired residents are given free remote controls by their city. But there’s still a lot of education to do. Indeed, a lot of cities aren’t aware of the accessible pedestrian signals implemented in their city and aren’t familiar with the remote control. This impacts people with visual impairments as they don’t all have a remote control to activate APS.

Of course, the APS being part of a norm, many cities do the work to be more accessible.

This device is also part of a norm, the same one as our accessible pedestrian signals: the NF S32-002.

Plus, in France blind and visually impaired people use their remote control to activate other solutions like audio beacons. They can be found at different points of interest (subway entrance, building entrance…).

What is it like for other countries?

What is striking is that France is the only country where the use of the remote control has been deployed. Remote activation has been tested in various countries but the system never stuck.

Countries like the U.S, Canada, Australia and the UK prefer the use of pushbuttons. 

But others like Japan and Sweden use APS that emit constant noise. 

The use of remote activation, pushbuttons and constant noise across the world shows the importance of culture and its part in accessibility. But also how blind and visually impaired people use the systems in place to get around in a city. 

Of course, the remote control for our aBeacons can be improved. But let’s not forget how American users were all in favor of remote activation even though pushbuttons have always been the norm in the U.S. Maybe it’s time for another system. One that meets the current needs of the blind and visually impaired. It surely looks like they’re ready to make the change. Especially since this solution can improve their everyday lives. 

Want to know more about accessible pedestrian signals? Check out these articles:

Everything You Need to Know About Accessible Pedestrian Signals Regulation in New York City

Why Your Accessible Pedestrian Signals Should Have a Guiding Sound Corridor?

Blind and Visually Impaired Pedestrians: What Are Their Difficulties When Crossing the Street?

Published on January 20th, 2023


The remote control that uses Bluetooth to actuate accessible pedestrian signals

Blind and visually impaired people don’t have to perfectly know the intersection beforehand. Remote activation can help them find their bearings and cross the intended crossing.


Carole Martinez

Carole Martinez

Content Manager & Copywriter

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