Wellington council accused of 'eugenics program' against blind citizens

Author
Georgina Campbell,
Publish Date
Mon, 27 Jan 2020, 3:30PM
Faulty pedestrian crossing signals have sparked anger in the capital. (Photo / 123RF)
Faulty pedestrian crossing signals have sparked anger in the capital. (Photo / 123RF)

Wellington council accused of 'eugenics program' against blind citizens

Author
Georgina Campbell,
Publish Date
Mon, 27 Jan 2020, 3:30PM

Wellington City Council is being accused of a "Blind Citizen Eugenics Program" amid reports of the visually impaired risking their lives crossing at silent pedestrian signals.

It's understood stickers have been plastered on all broken signals across the city which read:

"Absolutely Positively Wellington. Blind Citizen Eugenics Program. By neglecting to maintain audible pedestrian crossing signals, we can reduce the cost of supporting people with disabilities, creating fantastic savings for the ratepayers."

The stickers are on a yellow background with black font and look very similar to the council's branding.

Wellington City Council spokesman Richard MacLean confirmed they would be removed.

"Quite a lot of people will probably find the sentiments expressed to be highly offensive and distressing – and we don't want people thinking the stickers were put up by the council."

Callum McMenamin has low vision and publicly drew attention to the issue earlier this year.

He would neither confirm nor deny that he was behind the signs but supported the point they made.

"Being provocative is sometimes necessary where there is an actual threat to life - you need to get people's attention."

McMenamin said it was a guessing game crossing at an intersection with inaudible signals.

"You sort of just have to try and listen for any oncoming traffic, which is often quite hard because cities are noisy and it's very windy in Wellington and that affects your hearing as well. So you sort of just say a little prayer and hope you make it across and that happens multiple times a day."

Stickers have been plastered on all broken signals across the city. Photo / Harry Berger.

Stickers have been plastered on all broken signals across the city. Photo / Harry Berger.

For example, he said, on one trip to the supermarket he encountered three crossings like this.

"We can get a rocket to the moon, why can't we get beeping crossings?"

There are 94 traffic signal sites and 593 pedestrian push buttons in Wellington's CBD.

McMenamin said reporting the broken signals was time consuming and difficult as the council's FIXiT app was not accessible for visually impaired people.

"It's the council's responsibility to ensure that this stuff is functioning they need to be checking that it's working."

MacLean said crews inspected the signals on rotation but there was always the possibility a signal would fail in between them.

"We can't for sure say how many signals are broken – which is why we appreciate it if people can call 499 4444 or get in touch with us on social media when they find a signal that's making no noise."

Figures released under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act reveal last year there were 82 pedestrian push button faults recorded in the CBD, 26 of which related to issues of audio tone or vibration. All of the faults were repaired.

But the information also revealed "some" pedestrian callbox tones were lowered due to complaints received from residents affected by the sound especially at night.

The council aims to get buttons repaired within two days of the reported fault, although ones involving damaged cabling took longer to repair and identify.

Council Associate Community Well-Being portfolio leader Rebecca Matthews said she and council officers were meeting for a second time with McMenamin on Friday.

Officers had done a walk-around and an audit, she said.

"It should be that the systems are better so that this is a rare occurrence and is fixed quickly."