Physical access and the built environment
This section incorporates the principles of building design/modification, including elements such as the layout of public areas and furnishings, to facilitate equitable access, mobility and independence for the vision impaired library user.
It should be noted that design of library buildings or modifications which consider the needs of patrons with a vision impairment will in no way impede the use of library facilities by other patrons. In most instances all library patrons will benefit from an enhanced service.
Some of the basic issues to be aware of when considering the access needs of vision impaired library patrons include:
These are simple guidelines on areas to watch. More detailed coverage may be found in other publications such as Australian Standards.
Vision impaired library users benefit from simple, straight forward design and layout. Potential obstructions or physical hazards in circulation areas such as the lobby or corridors should be avoided. Low hanging signs or other potential hazards such as plants or suspended lighting could pose detection problems for the person with low vision and should be avoided.
Layout should be based on right-angle arrangements, which are easier for the vision impaired patron to negotiate than diagonal or circular patterns. Navigational aids such as tactile floor indicators can help map out areas and be used to aid orientation, (such as from the entrance to the reception desk). Major circulation areas like corridors can be indicated by the use of hard floor surfaces, which also provide an acoustic orientation cue for the vision impaired user.
Large open plan areas may prove confusing and difficult to negotiate. These can be divided into manageable "capsules" through the use of tactile features such as portable screens or partitions. A tactile map of major library areas could be made available at a centrally accessible point such as the reception or reference desk for vision impaired patrons to orientate themselves.
Alternative format collections such as large print or talking books can be placed at a clearly designated and accessible location close to the library entrance or the reference desk. Such initiatives could also benefit other patrons and those with mobility difficulties.
If possible, automatic sensor operated doors could be installed to permit open access to the library building.
Lighting and glare
It is difficult to propose an ideal lighting "formula" as the responses and needs of people can be highly individual and changeable. For many people with low vision, light can play an important role in providing orientation cues and residual visual information about their environment. Detailed specifications and recommendations for a variety of work areas have been produced by Australian Standards.
For many people with a vision impairment, particularly elderly library users, glare can be a major problem. As a general principle, surfaces which are highly reflective or can generate a lot of glare are not recommended. These may include highly polished floors or timbers, large expanses of glass and laminated, glossy posters and displays. Sources of natural daylight such as large windows can supply useful levels of illumination but can also radiate high levels of glare. Adjustable blinds or curtains may be helpful in controlling light levels. To minimise glare, overhead lighting should be recessed wherever possible and light sources should be placed so as to not shine directly into the eyes.
Overall lighting should avoid patches or sudden changes from brightly lit to dark areas. The rapid adjustments necessary to accommodate the changes in light levels can be both difficult and uncomfortable for patrons with a vision impairment. Entrances and lobby areas may require a slight adjustment in light levels to aid the transition from natural light to an artificially lit environment indoors.
Be consistent with both style and placement of signage.
For exterior areas, signs need to be:
Interior signs should be placed at eye level near doorways or traffic areas, and clearly defined. Use large print signs with good, bold text and clear contrast such as black on white. Signs placed on glass panels or doors can be difficult to read and should generally be avoided. If it is necessary to do so, make sure that they are clearly accessible, well lit and on a static background to minimise confusion and interference.
"I'm tired of crashing into half-open doors, banging my head on signs I can't see and having to work through an obstacle course whenever I want to borrow a book."
Safety is important for people who are blind or vision impaired. An element of design or layout which a sighted library user may not even notice could pose a hazard to a library user with low vision.
Buildings should, where possible, avoid fixtures or structures which leave space exposed underneath them. Cane users may experience great orientation difficulty if unable to locate where an object or structure meets the floor.
Floors on stairs and other public access areas should be finished with non-slip surfaces.
Some general points to consider in this area are:
An element of design or layout which a sighted library user may not even notice could pose a hazard to alibrary user with low vision.
Checklist of building design considerations for the blind and vision impaired
We hope this checklist will help library staff provide accessible library buildings, collections and services. It is not the last word, but rather aims to promote awareness of the range of issues involved and the services which will help facilitate equitable access for all patrons.
Again, it should be emphasised that it is not simply design and structural elements which make the library space and services accessible and friendly for the library patron with a print disability. The key factor is the attitude and sensitivity demonstrated by staff.
(Specific areas, such as lighting levels or recommended distance between shelves should be considered in conjunction with the appropriate Australian Standard. A complete listing of those standards applicable to disability - such as Access and Mobility - is available from the Australian Standards office in relevant capital cities.)
P U B L I C A C C E S S A R E A S
F I XT U R E S A N D E Q U I P M E N T:
S I G N AG E
are all major library areas and facilities clearly marked with tactile and/ or large print lettering:
- car park
- emergency exits
- catalogues and information desk
- public telephones
- public toilets
- reference desk
- fire extinguishers?
L I G H T I N G
For specific detail, refer to the Australian Standards document AS 1680.
In the design of lighting for people with disabilities, particularly for those with partial vision and the elderly, consideration should be given to contrasting levels of brightness:
B U I L D I N G A C C E S S
S E R V I C E S
- audio loop
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