Tactiles and Braille won’t solve Sunshine Coast Hospital’s $5m problem

The Sunshine Coast University Hospital in Queensland was recently successfully sued by a man who said he was discriminated against because he couldn’t find his way to his medical appointments. 

The ABC reports that the Federal Court ruled the $1.8 billion hospital, completed in 2017, “contravened aspects of the Disability Discrimination Act, by not considering key features that could impact patients who were blind or those with vision impairments”. 

Updates to the “state-of-the-art” hospital, including contrast warnings, removing stainless steel surfaces and adding tactile and Braille signage, will likely cost an estimated $5m.

Tactiles and Braille are wonderful additions, and the court case is a real victory for everyone with a vision impairment who needs to get around in any public space. 

But if we’re serious about providing non-discriminatory wayfinding for people with vision impairment, is it time to go further?

Louis Braille gave us his reading system in 1824. Tactiles were invented in 1965 by Seiichi Miyake in Japan. These innovations were a revolution in accessibility and non-discrimination at the time and have given excellent service to the vision-impaired community ever since.

But great as they are, they don’t constitute an effective wayfinding and navigation system. They warn of immediate hazards or provide information in the immediate environment of the user.

They are not helpful when finding a particular room in a hospital, navigating to a meeting room in an office building, or finding one of 300 shops in a large shopping centre. 

Unfortunately, even after its $5m refit, vision-impaired visitors to the Sunshine Coast Hospital will still need guidance, help and support to get to their medical appointments.

Until very recently, there hasn’t been a reliable, workable system that goes beyond these basic building modifications to provide more useful information to people who can’t see enough to read signage. 

But luckily, a lot has changed since 1824 and 1965. 

It’s now possible, with some basic building additions (costing much less than $5m), for anyone to open BindiMaps on a smartphone and know their exact location inside a large complex space like a major hospital, search for any destination, and be guided there through simple audio directions. 

No getting lost—no need for assistance. The BindiMaps app is a totally inclusive experience that doesn’t discriminate against users who are blind or vision impaired. 

Using this technology, they are just as capable of finding their way to their medical appointments as anyone else. That is true inclusion.

The BindiMaps technology is already installed in hospitals, office buildings, campuses and shopping centres around Australia. More locations are coming on board every week, and the app is being used by increasing numbers of blind or vision impaired people, with rave reviews. 

Tactiles and Braille are extremely useful, and they must definitely continue to be a part of building codes and accessibility requirements in the future. 

But if we’re really serious about inclusion and accessibility for all, maybe it’s time to add to them and bring accessibility requirements a little further on from 1965.

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