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Standards make braille signs easier to find

Here's a question that's been bugging me for a while. Every so often at public places, I'll see signs with braille underneath. Logically I know the braille lettering is for people who can't see, but how would the blind know there's a sign by the door in the first place?

— Tim, via email

Sight-impaired people are able to find those braille signs thanks in part to standards set through the Americans with Disabilities Act, which regulates everything from the size of the braille lettering to where the signs are placed.

The ADA's 279-page booklet outlines guidelines for things ranging from the optimal grab-bar height in handicapped-accessible restrooms (38 inches above the floor) to accessible washing-machine doors (between 15 and 36 inches). Chapter 7 of that document is all about "communication elements and features," including two types of ways the blind can read those signs in public places.

Signs identifying rooms must be placed between 4 feet and 5 feet above the floor. The guidelines further specify the text be tactile with raised lettering rising at least 1/32 of an inch, and that braille dots have a domed or rounded shape.

ADA guidelines require signs be placed on the latch side of the door, not the hinge side.

As for the signs themselves, the font must be sans serif, and between 5/8 of an inch to 2 inches tall, determined using the font's uppercase "I" height. 

— Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com. To see a collection of columns, go to mailtribune.com/youasked. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.