Accessibility: too far in some places, but not far enough in others?

Posted: May 5, 2010 in technology
Tags: ,

I am all for making the world more accessible.  Most of the new buildings I design the mechanical systems for are barrier-free and I firmly believe we need to make all buildings more accessible, whether new or old.  Simple things like automatic doors and access ramps are a step (no pun intended) in the right direction.  Anyone who wants to get into a building should be able to, and do so under their own power not relying on helpers or strangers to carry them up steps or hold open doors for them.  This is a no-brainer to me and I chalk it up to common decency that we all should do what we can to make the world a better place for all the inhabitants regardless of their abilities.

What does confuse me though is braille on ATMs.  I was in a nice new bank branch the other day using the automated teller machine (ATM, or automated banking machine ABM) and noticed that the envelope slot and the trash slot had braille labeling.  I thought at first, that’s nice, but then looked around and pondered exactly how a blind person would use an ATM.

For one there is no braille on any of the keys on the keypad.  Some have a raised dimple on the 5 key to help you located it, but thats it.  The keys on the side of the screen are just push buttons that serve different uses depending upon what you are doing so there is no labeling on them.  One key may be yes another no, or chequings, savings, credit card, etc., –  you get the idea.  If you were blind these buttons would be completely useless to you since every bank does their ATM setups differently, both the software and the hardware is different from bank to bank.  In short, putting braille labels on an ATM, and automatic door openers controlled by pushbuttons does not make you handicap accessible, its a very small start that needs a lot more work.  There are sections of the Ontario Building Code that deals with Barrier-Free design and Accessibility, but even that is only a minimum that must be adhered to, there is so much more we can and should do.  Getting back to the issue about braille, the building code only requires that we post “…tactile or written directions…” and only for washrooms, elevators, telephones or parking areas.

I may be a little more cognizant of the way buildings are constructed with respect to accessibility than most, and maybe its empathy to some extent, but if everyone could put themselves in another’s place who had to deal with this issue daily and see the challenges they face, we may all strive to make everywhere more accessible and give differently-abled persons that little bit more independence in their lives.  For me, knowing people in wheelchairs, or those who walk with canes, or are near blind, deaf, or frail from getting old, has let me see the hardships that some people face daily and awakened me to the need that everyone needs to do more to enable others and not treat them as disabled.


  1. feralchick says:

    Totally agree with you, tcg. Better yet, let’s go for universal design, which makes life accessible for all.

    The classic example is curb cuts, which not only facilitate travel for those using wheelchairs but also those pushing strollers, shopping carts, and other forms of wheeled conveyance.

    Another example would be push-button or automatic door-openers: great if you’re using a chair but also helpful if you’re carrying a big litter of puppies or an ice chest of donor organs and your hands are full.

    Video captions: essential for the hard of hearing, but also nice for those in noisy (or silent) locations, second language learners, etc.

    Bottom line though: assuming we live long enough, we will *all* be “disabled” at some point.

    Accessibility needs to be more than a footnote in building code. Let’s get it right now (before a whole generation of Baby Boomers–me included–start beating us about the head with their canes! 😉


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