This is Trompetter street. A wide road with a central reservation and traffic lights. Behind you is the impressive new Grave town hall.
Getting from one place to another is something that most of us find relatively simple and take for granted, but for the significant numbers of blind and visually impaired people in Europe, just the journey to and from the railway station can present multiple challenges. On arrival, something as straightforward as locating the elevator or finding out which platform to go to make the entire experience confusing at best, daunting, stressful and potentially dangerous at worst.
In the Netherlands, national organisations are partnering to deliver innovative solutions to the daily struggles of the blind and visually impaired population – estimated to be around 350,000.
ProRail, the government body that takes care of maintenance of the national railway, believes that everyone must be able to travel independently by train and put a real focus on accessibility. They are always looking for new ways to make using their stations as easy as possible for everyone.
Most recently, stations at Utrecht, Rotterdam and The Hague have made tangible station floor plans available, which are specially produced cards incorporating braille of differing heights and contrasting colours to help blind and visually impaired travellers negotiate their way. Every element of the customer experience has been considered – there are guide lines to take travellers to the public transport service shop, where they can request a station plan.
It’s been made possible by new developments in digital print, where sign makers can print multiple layers of ink – ideal for braille signage – in a cost-efficient way, even when only limited quantities are required.
Dedicon, a Dutch foundation that champions equal opportunities for the blind and visually impaired, has been working with ProRail and other organisations. They see endless opportunities to create more accessible spaces, using New York and Sydney as model examples.
Blind or visually impaired people can do everything – except see. Their disability is not blindness, but poor access to information such as text and images.
Bart Vroom, their Communications Manager shares Dedicon’s mission, “Blind or visually impaired people can do everything – except see. Their disability is not blindness, but poor access to information such as text and images. We give information the form needed when 'seeing' or reading is not an option, so everyone can be informed and live independently. It is a human right to fully participate in society and Dedicon fights for an inclusive society.”
Davy Kager, an IT student from Grave, who is also blind, walks a lot, yet even the shortest journey is filled with obstacles. He came up with an idea to help him navigate through Grave and approached Dedicon, who were more than happy to help.
“I can not read street signs, I do not see striking landmarks on the street and the GPS on my phone does not always work flawlessly. I started looking for practical solutions and this idea came: tactile signs that give information about the environment in which I am at that moment.”
Together, Dedicon have brought next level tactile signage to Davy’s hometown, where there are now braille street names and elevated QR codes.
“Dedicon describes the environment prints the signs. As an IT student, I naturally wanted to add an extra dimension, which is why there is also a QR-code. When I scan it with my phone, a friendly voice tells me which road to cross at that moment. I also hear other relevant information about the visual environment. Information that would otherwise pass me by – and that’s interesting for sighted people too.”
“Thanks to these signs, a walk suddenly becomes a lot more interesting and more relaxed, I can orient myself better. But, most importantly, I can go through the city more independently and that is a big wish.”