“We all leave holes in the lives of others when we pass. Janet leaves a crater in two professions, and in the lives of professionals throughout the United States and in fact the entire world.”- Bastian Schroeder, Senior Principal Engineer
Janet Barlow was an Orientation and Mobility (O&M) Specialist, trained in helping people who are blind or visually impaired learn how to travel independently. Along with Beezy Bentzen, PhD, Janet was the principal of the nonprofit organization Accessible Design for the Blind (ADB). She was also a teaming partner and close friend to many of us at Kittelson.
Janet’s Impactful Career
Janet spent many years teaching vision disabled people to travel independently on the street, most notably at the Center for the Visually Impaired in Atlanta. Her practical experience prepared her well for the second half of her career, in which she researched techniques to make the built environment more accessible to vision disabled travelers.
Several decades ago, Janet became involved in the world of transportation when she realized that one of the best ways she could help her clients was to improve engineering practices for the streets and intersections on which she was training. Senior Principal Engineer Ed Myers remembers meeting Janet in the context of a roundabout project that the Baltimore County Commissioner for Disabilities felt wasn’t accessible.
“It was a contentious project. People took sides: you were either pro-roundabout or you weren’t,” says Ed. “What struck me about Janet and Beezy is that they were problem solvers. They wanted to forge a relationship with the engineering community to solve the problem. That work is still continuing.”
Janet’s contributions to the fields of visual impairment and transportation are many and varied. Under her leadership, ADB became well-recognized for human factors research related to environmental access. Major topics that Janet investigated included accessible pedestrian signals, roundabouts, and tactile walking surface indicators such as detectable warnings and guidance surfaces. In 2017, together with Diane Fazzi of California State University, Los Angeles, Janet authored Orientation and Mobility Techniques: A Guide for the Practitioner, a manual for the teaching of O&M, now used as a textbook in university programs preparing O&M specialists. Janet was also first author of two chapters in Foundations of Orientation and Mobility, the authoritative textbook on the theory, research, and practice of O&M.
She also attended countless Transportation Research Board (TRB) and Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) meetings and conferences—often listening for hours to the conversations and discussions of committees and panels, only to speak up at the right moment to draw attention to the needs and civil rights of people with disabilities.
“She’d often just sit in the conference room knitting and listening,” says Principal Engineer Lee Rodegerdts. “Then every so often, she’d remind people they were forgetting about the challenges that face visually disabled pedestrians. Though gentle in influencing people’s perceptions, she was an active force on the research front. She certainly had an enormous influence on the way I look at transportation, with a focused sensitivity to how some of the most vulnerable people—people with vision disabilities—travel in our transportation systems.”
Honoring Janet’s Legacy
Janet passed away in Summer 2021, but her contributions live on in the written words of journal papers, research reports, and guidebooks, as well as in the memories many in the two professions have of Janet, her passionate debates, and her field demonstrations to countless professionals of accessibility challenges under blindfold.
Her legacy now lives on through another forum. In memory of Janet Barlow, her family has established the Janet Barlow Legacy Fund to promote cooperation and mutual understanding between the orientation and mobility (O&M) profession and the transportation engineering and planning profession. All who are interested can contribute to the fund at the Orientation and Mobility Specialist Association website.
“Our profession is indebted to the work that Janet led to facilitate knowledge sharing between the O&M and transportation professions. The Janet Barlow Legacy Fund provides an opportunity to support the continuation of this work, helping us as transportation professionals better understand and respond to the experiences of people with visual disabilities in our transportation systems.”- Brandon Nevers, CEO
We at Kittelson seek to continue honoring Janet’s life and work by actively collaborating with our O&M colleagues to develop ways for our staff and others in the transportation engineering and planning worlds to interact with, learn from, and grow together with O&M specialists. Together we can provide a safer and more accessible transportation system for all people, including those with vision disabilities who are often left on the margins.
“Janet’s competence, knowledge, and work ethic were legendary,” says Senior Principal Engineer Bastian Schroeder. “Her joy and passion for her chosen work and for her family and friends were a fire that warmed so many of us. Her contributions will live on, and we will miss, remember, and celebrate her as we travel through the environment that she helped to shape.”
"Her contributions will live on, and we will miss, remember, and celebrate her as we travel through the environment that she helped to shape.”- Bastian Schroeder, Senior Principal Engineer