The importance of accessibility

A Closer Look at the World Around Us

So, I’m curious… Did you notice the different smells of places you have visited since reading my last post? I hope so! In this post, I am going to share some more titbits of information that I hope you will find interesting.

The first thing I want to share is a bugaboo for probably nearly every blind traveller. You would be amazed how often we are physically touched or grabbed when out and about. My arm is often held while I am trying to step onto public transport or an escalator for example. I have been pulled across a road by the hand. One particularly memorable (for the wrong reason) experience was when someone picked up the end of my cane and lead me off the bus. Think about that for a moment! The very thing I use to locate the step and judge the distance I need to step out to the kerb was up in the air! Jeepers! While we understand that this is most often done with the best intentions, it will almost always give us a hell of a fright and can often end up being more unsafe for us. So please remember, if you feel like someone needs help, make sure you ask them first. This way, we can accept your offer if we need or want to, and we can show you the best way to help us. But please don’t be offended if we refuse your offer. Most often we are probably managing okay on our own.

Photo description: Cass stands in front of an ATM with her hand on the keypad. She is wearing a royal blue lace-knit cardigan with a white short-sleeve blouse underneath and light blue jeans. Her hair is pulled back in a ponytail and silver earrings dangle from her ears. Cass is using a pair of white headphones which are plugged into the ATM. Photo by Lee Anderson.

In my last blog I talked about O&M training and how it can help you learn your way around an environment. It’s not always the be-all and end-all though. You may need to travel somewhere new unexpectedly, so you don’t have time to organise a session with an O&M instructor. You might decide it’s not worth getting training as it’s somewhere you won’t need ever again. You probably won’t have the facilities to organise O&M if you are travelling interstate for example. Or perhaps you had the training, but you still made a mistake! I can remember a time when I got lost even after having O&M training in my local shopping centre.

My first guide dog and I were taught how to get from the bus stop into the shopping centre, down the escalator and to the Body Shop. The Body Shop happened to be right next door to Lush (another two shops with very distinctive smells). The first time we attempted to find the Body Shop on our own still puzzles me to this day. We hopped off the bottom of the escalator and I encouraged her to find left as I had been taught. After walking about twenty metres or so, I started to ask her to find the Body Shop. She seemed confused. We walked back and forward twice in case we had somehow missed it, but those distinctive wafts were missing. I was also confused. I asked a passer-by if she could tell me where the Body Shop was. To my astonishment, she told me that it was up the other end of the shopping centre! No, it had not moved. We had just misjudged the angle we needed to turn once we had hopped off the bottom of the escalator. I’m still baffled by how such a small error can make such a huge difference in a complex environment such as a shopping centre. This really demonstrates the complexities of navigating indoors.

Technology, such as smart phone apps or other wayfinding devices, are a massive help. I use apps to get directions to new destinations, explore what’s around me, find out what intersection I am approaching, and learn about the points of interest I pass. But sadly, these apps aren’t much help indoors. This is when BindiMaps comes to the party!

To this day, people who are blind continue to face numerous accessibility challenges in their day-to-day lives. It’s amazing that this continues to be so common in today’s world where there is so much more understanding of the need to be accessible and inclusive. You know those large buildings in the city that require you to use a touchscreen to select the floor you need and then use a specific lift to get up to that floor? How do I access these? You know those electric vehicles that are becoming more popular due to being more environmentally friendly? How can I hear them approaching when they are travelling at low speed along a residential street when I am trying to cross? You know those queuing systems that require you to take a ticket and then approach the nominated counter when your ticket number is called? How do I navigate this? You know those home appliances that are increasingly becoming touchscreen? How can I wash my underwear?

Ooph! This has turned into quite a negative post hasn’t it? Sorry everyone! While these concerns are very real and very valid ones, let’s be glass-half-full people today. To finish this post, I am going to leave you with ten fun facts about the world around you that you possibly won’t know!

  • To their credit, many companies have introduced accessibility features to their products to help people who are blind distinguish them (e.g., ANZ distinguish their bank cards with tactile markings and Herbal Essences distinguish their shampoo from their conditioner with raised dots)
  • Most smart phones today have in-built accessibility features including a screen reader
  • Most ATMs will talk if you plug in your headphones
  • The arrow above the button on a traffic light pulses along with the ticking sound (which may not only be helpful for people who are hearing impaired but also people who are blind if it is a very noisy environment or if the volume of the traffic light is too low)
  • Most elevators have Braille on the buttons
  • There is a tactile dot on the 5 on EFTPOS terminals and phone keypads
  • The new design of Australian banknotes includes a system of dots to help distinguish the denomination
  • Most taxis display their taxi number in Braille on the outside of the passenger door (near the door handle)
  • Many airlines have Braille copies of their safety instruction cards
  • VoiceOver on the iPhone can assist you to take a photo by announcing how many faces are in the shot and where the faces are in the view as well as helping you to hold your phone straight

This story was written by Cassandra Embling, Customer Success Representative at BindiMaps.

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