Thursday, May 31, 2007

Braille in the washroom?

THE wonderful thing about being a disabled person in Malaysia is that when you require assistance, four out of every five Malaysians will come to your aid. The only problem is that you sometimes have to call out to them for help.

But people who see you struggling, in your wheelchair, with a heavy bathroom door, may not rush forward to help you. I’ve been told by many able-bodied people that it’s because they do not know if they should help, fearing that the disabled person might snap at them for thinking that they can’t do it themselves.

Others tell me that sometimes they only realise, too late, that the disabled person needs help.
Whilst most disabled Malaysians appreciate a helping hand when it is needed, the truth is, we don’t want to be dependent on the able-bodied. It is for this reason that Malaysians with disabilities are always pushing for the authorities to improve disabled-friendly facilities in the country.

So you can understand why I was thrilled when I read that the Housing and Local Government Ministry plans to include signs in Braille in public toilets all over the country. According to the news report, the visually-impaired will find it easier to use loos with signage in Braille indicating where facilities such as bidets, urinals, soap dispensers, hand dryers and garbage bins are located.
A top official from the ministry commented that without Braille signs, the blind have to rely on others for help.

So thumbs up to our government and the National Toilet Cleanliness Cabinet Committee for considering the special needs of the blind patrons in restrooms.

Meanwhile, Kapt Abdul Karim Stuart Russell, secretary of the Support Group Society for the Blind of Malaysia, has raised the following points for the committee to consider:

Tactile ground surface indicators for the blind help orientate them to the location of public toilets. These must be properly placed and maintained. Note: Tactile markings are only of limited help if no information in Braille is provided outside and inside the toilets to help the blind use the facilities.
Standard uniform layout is essential in assisting the visually-impaired to overcome difficulties when using public toilets. Even slight differences can cause serious problems, distress and pose a possible danger to the blind.

Floors should be free of obstructions such as steps, open drains, and broken or missing tiles.
Designs should ensure that counters, cubicles, doors, etc, are free of sharp edges and other dangers.

Locking devices of toilet cubicles must be simple but effective. The designs must provide tactile evidence that the door is locked.

There should be regular maintenance to eliminate any defects in the facilities.

It would be useful to include sound orientation devises in public toilets to help the blind find what they are looking for.

The user-friendly facilities should include non-touch sensors for flushing. It must be noted that it is difficult, unhygienic and potentially dangerous if the blind have to use their hands to search for the facilities.

Other “musts” include observing international standards. For example, Braille signs should be placed at a uniform height, fittings should follow a standard layout, and facilities should be provided in an ergonomically designed environment.

“When it comes to the blind, the key word is ‘independence’,” stresses Karim. The issue of safety and hygiene, and the importance of self-assistance are some of the key considerations.

“Just like sighted persons, the blind need access to clean, safe and convenient public toilets. This is their basic right,” he added.


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