06:17pm Friday 22 November 2019

Paving the way to better accessibility for people who are blind

Student study informs better design for people with a visual impairment The students, Paul Shannahan and Eilhard Carrillo have been examining building code standards, so-called ‘best practice buildings’ and getting around the City East campus to investigate how people who are blind or vision impaired can find their way easily to locations.
They have been working with UniSA community partner, the Royal Society for the Blind, to investigate the ways in which both vision-impaired people and sighted people find their way to and from buildings, using UniSA’s City East campus as a case study.
Shannahan says he was surprised to find little in the regular building codes and standards to support best practice for people with a visual disability.
“As a sighted student working in fields aligned to construction and planning, I expected there to be more set down as a standard that would take account of people who have difficulty in finding their way around buildings because of a disability,” he said.
And Royal Society for the Blind Accessibility Manager Tony Starkey says most people have no idea of the extra effort that goes into living a life with impaired vision.
“For a blind or vision-impaired person and hour or more of research is required, just to prepare to find their way to  a simple a doctor’s appointment so that  the journey as safe and productive as possible.
“We hope that Paul and Eilhard’s work will provide us with a report that can strengthen the case for change within building plans and standards,” Starkey said.
The Royal Society for the Blind has asked the students to conduct a literature search, examine ‘best practice’ buildings around Adelaide and work with blind and sighted volunteers who need to navigate their way to a central building at the UniSA City East campus.
Through their Community Service Learning Project, the students have discovered that not only is accessibility an often neglected issue, but that their own perceptions of blindness and vision impairment have been challenged.
“Perhaps what has surprised us the most, is that vision impairment is often oversimplified by popular media and no two eye conditions are the same,” Shannahan said.
“Some people have a good degree of peripheral, or side vision while others have no vision at all and this can make consistency in accessibility planning quite challenging.”
Carillo says sensitive building design must be inclusive of everyone – not just the majority.
“Personally I think incorporating sound, texture and shapes in building design could enrich the way finding experiences of both sighted and non-sighted people,” he says. 
The UniSA students also found that aesthetic standards often override accessibility standards, but the two interests should not necessarily compete.
According to Starkey, clear contrast, strategic placement of signage and attention to paths are part of good design and not necessarily at odds with design aesthetics.
It is hoped that the study will not only provide some ways forward for accessibility standards, but provide some guidelines for the University of South Australia as it revises its own signage and way-finding on campuses.

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