The Braille Monitor                                                                                         October, 2003


Psst, Pass It On

by Merry-Noel Chamberlain

From the Editor: Merry-Noel Chamberlain is a teacher of the visually impaired and holds National Orientation and Mobility Certification (NOMC). She lives in Des Moines, Iowa, and demonstrates high standards for Braille reading. The point she makes in the following article is important. This is what she says:

Merry-Noel Chamberlain
Merry-Noel Chamberlain

As Braille readers, sighted or blind, it is our responsibility to inform public establishments when their Braille signs are not correct. Let's face it, most hotel and restaurant managers and owners have no knowledge of the Braille code. In general, people trust that the sign manufacturers have exactly translated the print sign into correct Braille. In fact the Braille is very often correct. But what about when it's not?

Since learning Braille, I have been checking out the signs around me. Setting aside the problems resulting from no Braille at all, I have discovered five categories of Braille signs: Beautiful Braille, Braille Shorthand, Braille Scribble, Braille Misinformation, and Braille Art. None of these are transparent dymo-tape, pressed-on Braille. I am referring to the Braille that is formed as part of the plastic template of the sign. Sign manufacturers boast in large neon orange circles that their signs "Conform to Americans with Disabilities Act: Grade 2 Braille." Therefore managers and owners naturally trust those professionals to produce perfect signs in Braille as well as in print.

If the signs are in contracted Braille, have no missing contractions, use proper capital signs, and transcribe the print exactly, I call this Beautiful Braille. In fact, most of the signs I have read do contain beautifully written Braille. But what about the rest room sign in a popular restaurant where the Braille text under the printed word "MEN" and picture of a wheelchair was written beautifully, aside from the lack of a whole-word capital sign (dot 6, dot 6)? I call that Braille Shorthand. This type of Braille is rather popular.

I spotted Braille Scribble, on the other hand, at a popular casino. Both the MEN and WOMEN signs were written as follows: "(dot 6)M(dot 6)E(dot 6)N" and "(dot 6)W(dot 6)O(dot 6)M(dot 6)M(dot 6)E(dot 6)N." Who makes such signs anyway? Simply put, Braille Scribble is written by people who are just learning Braille and haven't yet learned the proper rules of the Braille code. I have also seen signs on which the word "ACCESSIBLE" was written without the double-C contraction. Then there was the Braille sign, "Handi-cap." A friend told me of upside-down Braille on an elevator. (I have yet to see that personally.)

Let's not forget Braille that incorrectly transcribes the print. I call this Braille Misinformation. At another popular establishment the Braille under the print word "WOMEN" and picture of a wheelchair read "women accessible" with no double-C contraction and no capital signs. This sign actually falls into two categories: Braille Scribble and Braille Misinformation. The Braille should have read "Women Wheelchair Accessible." I also found a sign at the door of a hotel meeting room that read "Breakfast Area" in print but "Pioneer Room" in Braille. So which was it--the breakfast area, the Pioneer Room, or both?

I saw another Braille Misinformation sign proudly displayed at a popular office supply store. The pictures on top showed a man and a woman with a line between the two stick figures. To the side was a picture of a wheelchair. The word "REST ROOM" was printed under these pictures. Under the printed word in Braille was simply "rest room handicapped" (no capital sign). The visual reader would see immediately that it was a handicapped-accessible, unisex rest room. Of course the pictures were raised, so the reader could assess additional information by tactile means other than reading Braille, assuming that he or she found the pictographs in the process of getting to the Braille.

However, I found the worst Braille sign of all at a popular fast-food restaurant. Under the MEN and WOMEN rest room signs were decorative, but not practical, groups of hard plastic droplets, which somewhat simulated Braille. The hard pointy dots were so crammed together that the Braille was completely distorted. The most proficient Braille reader would have had trouble attempting to read it. I simply call this Braille Art for the sighted.

I would hope that, if a manager received a printed sign that read "WoMeN", "mEN", or even "Handi-cap," he or she would return the sign to the manufacturer for correction, no questions asked. I'm sure managers would return a sign if a print letter was backwards or upside-down, so shouldn't they return a sign if the Braille is not acceptable?

I informed the managers or owners of all the establishments mentioned above that the Braille was not correct. Did any of them change their signs? No. Why not? Too expensive? The sign manufacturers convinced the owner that the sign was correct? They didn't think it was important enough to fix? Whatever the reason, we have the responsibility to check public Braille signs and inform the proper individuals about incorrect Braille. It is important for our early Braille readers to read correct Braille. Sign manufacturers should not be getting paid for producing inadequate Braille. If enough of us complain to establishments about incorrect Braille, they will be forced to fix it.

So the next time you Braille readers are getting ready to walk into a public rest room, hotel meeting room, or elevator or just happen to come across a Braille sign, take a second to touch the Braille. Psst, pass your knowledge on so that we can have beautiful Braille everywhere.