Does ADA Signage Help Direct the Blind?

When talking with clients and stakeholders seeking to improve their facility’s wayfinding, many ask a similar question about the directional signs.  “Will there be Braille included on the directional signs?”

I like this question because it illustrates that most people want their wayfinding system to provide guidance to more than those with good vision.  Unfortunately, the answer “no” is not as uplifting.  And it begs the larger question, “Does ADA Signage Help Direct the Blind?”

You see, the ADA requires Braille only for the purpose of identifying ‘permanent’ spaces.  Determining what is a permanent space is somewhat subjective, but those familiar with the writing and intent of the law say two good rules of thumb are if a space is assigned a room number –or- if the contents of the room are attached to the floor, it is considered a permanent space.  This can be helpful for identifying rooms for blind or low-vision people, but does little to orient or guide them.  When a logical and sequential room numbering system is used as the permanent title of most rooms, this can at least help blind and low-vision people follow an ascending or descending room numbers like addresses on a street, but of course they will need to know the room number they are seeking.  To complicate matters, it is projected that less than 10% of blind people can read Grade 1 Braille.  Since signs are required to have Grade 2 Braille which is a more advanced, contracted version of Grade 1 Braille, an even smaller percentage of the blind are able to read the Braille on signs.  So, unfortunately while the ADA Braille signage requirements are well-intentioned, they actually do little to provide the blind with directional information.


So since neither directories and directional signs are required to have tactile and Braille, it raises the question, “How do we provide directional information to blind and low-vision people?”  In an effort to seek that answer, blind and low-vision people were asked what could be helpful to them for self-navigation.  As it turns out, with the advent of smart phones, many blind and low-vision individuals are turning to these devices for guidance and information.  Wayfinding apps, QR Codes and GPS (for outdoor applications) can offer navigational guidance.  In fact, there is currently an ongoing discussion in the blind and low-vision community about whether Braille is becoming an outdated means of communication with the emergence of other more intuitive, immediate options.  Still, some blind and low-vision people indicated that having a tactile map of an unfamiliar space can be helpful for them and low-vision individuals often mentioned providing large print with high contrast on a brochure for them.

Beyond these few options, there are others, but the bottom line for the purposes of this post is that providing equal access to directional information in buildings requires thinking beyond what is required by law and developing solutions that meet the unique needs of those who cannot see or see well.


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