A proposed Australian Standard to make buildings and public spaces more accessible to the blind and vision impaired will produce frustrating user experiences, stifle innovation and add unnecessary cost.
Büro North have worked with other specialist firms, including Dot Dash and ID/Lab, to lead a formal response to the proposed Draft Australian Standard for Wayfinding (DRAS 1428.4.4:2015 Design For Access and Mobility).
The draft standard proposes to make buildings and public spaces more accessible to the blind and vision impaired by providing large quantities of information in Braille and tactile text. While Büro North are supportive of accessibility requirements and design for all users, we are very concerned that the proposed standard will hamper innovation, drastically increase cost, and not provide a tangible benefit to the community.
Designed in 1824 by Louis Braille, the system is comprised of a series of raised dots which need to be set at a particular size and distance in order to be read by touch. Best estimates for Braille literacy in Australia are that it represents 0.2% of the total population, and less than 10% of the blind population.
At it’s heart, the draft standard seeks to have every piece of information within a building or facility use Braille and tactile information. While it's intent to provide for blind users is noble, we strongly disagree with the proposed methodology.
The standard seeks not just to standardise the design of signage elements, but also the placement of these elements across all buildings within Australia. In doing so, it ignores or misrepresents a number of user-centric design patterns which are required for navigation, and adds a significant cost impost (approximately two times over) for very little benefit of a few, at the cost of the many.
The new standard would call for wayfinding information points at all primary entrances to a facility, and seeks to control the design, arrangement, and application of these information points. It does so in a way which ignores wayfinding best practice. For instance, it asks for all information about destinations to be arranged by level, and then alphabetically, ignoring that a user of the facility is unlikely to know which level their destination is on, requiring them to search all information across the board.
It appears to be a document written with minimal concern for effective wayfinding design patterns, or indeed acknowledgement that the wayfinding design industry is one which is in a constant state of flux as new technologies, methodologies, and research techniques are refined and developed.
Every building is slightly different, in its functional layout and its operational procedures, but most of all in its people. As a design discipline which is wholly led by the principles of User Centric design, we do not believe that a one-size fits all approach to developing wayfinding systems is appropriate or effective.
The challenges navigating the built environment as a blind user are real. The solutions promoted by the draft standard are not.
To read the formal letter to Standards Australia click here.