Braille signs and accessibility – why these signs didn’t help me find my way around

Sign with Braille that is out of reach

Not all blind people are able to read Braille, but for those of us who are, having information in Braille can be really useful. I particularly like to find it on hotel bedrooms. This means I don’t have to meticulously count the doors (no good if there’s a group of people or a trolley of towels in the way), and it’s a sure way to stop you accidentally trying to break into someone else’s room.

However, putting up signs in Braille is not just like translating the sign into another language. There are a few more things to consider. A recent trip to a hotel really brought this home to me, so I thought I’d share my experiences here.

Problem 1 – I don’t know about the signs

Some blind people have a degree of sight and they may notice the signs. They may be travelling with someone as I was. It was my fiancé who first alerted me to the signs in the hotel, and he’s pointed out other random signs on our travels too. Signs about safety, opening times, toilets, or how to use a piece of equipment. The problem is, if he hadn’t been there, I would have walked straight past them, completely unaware that they were there, which rather defeats the object of having the sign there in the first place.

Signs don’t work for me in the same way. They don’t grab my attention. They have to be pointed out.

So, if you’re thinking about putting Braille signs up on your premises, there needs to be some training too. You or your staff have no way of knowing whether a blind person is able to read Braille, but if you think that they might, for example because they have a white cane or a guide dog, it’s worth them explaining that there are Braille signs around the venue. Otherwise your shiny new signs may just go unnoticed!

Problem 2 – I can’t reach that!

Now we come to the three problems that I found with the signs at the hotel. I’m not looking to make an example of this particular hotel, but I thought the issues illustrate my point.

After we discovered the door numbers, my fiancé started showing me other signs – but there were a few issues with them. We did point out the problems to reception so that they could get them put right, but apparently the signs had been around for a number of years and nobody had commented on them before. See problem 1!

At 1.55m, I’m not very tall. But the point of Braille signs is that you read them with your fingers. We found one that was so high above my head that I could only reach the bottom of it. This is a problem! Ok, many people are taller than me, but a building can’t just cater to tall blind people!

I understand the thinking behind it – you can get away with putting printed signs higher up – but different rules apply when your sign has to be read with fingers.

Problem 3 – the writing is upside down

I couldn’t figure out what the writing said at first, but it was in fact upside down. The rest of the sign was not – all the arrows were pointing in the right directions and the printed lettering was right, but the Braille text had been printed upside down! Maybe the person creating the sign had been watching Stranger Things and wanted to send Braille readers to the Upside Down? Or maybe they just didn’t check. Either way, nobody was aware of the error.

Problem 4 – the text is incorrect

On these particular signs, I could read the printed text too because it was in raised letters. So I could tell that the Braille letters did not say the same as the rest of the sign. The printed letters were correct – the Braille was not and might have sent someone in circles looking for the room when they were actually right outside it!

Conclusion

I’ve no doubt that the hotel wanted to do something good that made their venue more accessible to disabled people – and this is a good thing. I’ve no doubt that they also spent a lot of money on those signs because they were printed on durable plastic, which I’m sure wasn’t cheap.

The part that was missing here was quality assurance checking – making sure that people for whom the signs were intended could actually use them, and that the company had paid for a quality product. If there had been some kind of strategy that had included user testing, or someone who explained some of the things you need to think about when putting up Braille signs, all of these problems could have been avoided.

EwK Services offers consultations in a number of areas to ensure that your products and services are accessible to blind people (specifically screenreader users and Braille readers). Visit the accessibility page For more information about these services or how else I can help you and your business.

You can also use this form to sign up for my monthly newsletter, or to get your free copy of “common barriers to accessibility” in terms of websites, products, social media, training materials, or events.





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