These discussions and information change between braille experts took place during the EBU Braille Workgroup meeting in september 2022 in Madrid. Each discussion lasted one hour. This article represents the notes of the discussion with useful information and resources gathered during the meeting.
Moderator: Erich Schmid
Brief outline of the topic:
- relief and tactile maps;
- lettering, either ink-print or high relief;
Relief, raised print symbols and letters
The signage is the part of the work of Spanish Braille commission. We published a norm of rules – Spanish rules for standard of signage in Braille, where all the information can be found about braille and relief signage. It includes also norms for signages for buildings, public spaces, train stations etc. It is mostly redesigned into braille, the sign is redesigned for Braille reader understanding.
The most important is to standardize signs. Even if the sign in relief is made in shape of some symbol, these symbols have to be standardized. It is not enough to redraw any symbol into the relief. The typical is for example symbol for cafeteria – it can be either a cup, or plate with cup, cup with steam rising out from it… All visual symbols which give firm significance when seen by sighted people. For touch it has tobe unified into one symbol accompanied with Braille. Relief symbol is usually not enough, it has to be in Braille as well.
Example of wrong case: There was a sign of public toilet for disabled people, it was a person in wheelchair. The person sitting on the wheelchair had a long hair and the sign was considered as discriminative. So the producer decided to remove the head of the person on the wheelchair. For the touch it was then absolutelly not clear, if it is actually a person on wheelchair or what the relief says.
There is no collection of the symbols, we can’t say how many. In general, signs which are most used in everyday life are those which can be in relief. But the majority which need to be a bit more explanative, those are better transcribed into Braille as a text.
Question: So well, to conclude, in which case the picture could be enough without braille?
Answer: To put it simply, only in the cases of very general sign of everyday use it can be only in relief. Such as toilet for men or women, or for the telephone. Although recently the symbol for telephone, the classic line telephone is not recognized anymore by the smartphone generation people.
Along with this all, it has to be considered as very important the internationalization of the symbols. If a blind person come to the country which language does not speak, the symbol can be a great help, once it is agreed as international symbol. The group does not know any real international standard for symbols in relief.
Question: In the unicode table, there are plenty of symbols, which are standardized. Which of them should we make tactile and how to make this? How big must they be? Is there a standard possible to say – every symbol has to have dimensions of this and that … This would be worth of European or even international efford in the standardization organizations.
Answer: Main thing is that everybody has to know in any language or any country the symbol by touching. It has to be something very simple.
In this matter, we would have to first decide, which symbols are worth and important to make them international in tactile form. The problem is, that these symbols are not normalized even in visual form.
Not even the symbols from unicode, which are standardized, are widely used. Public spaces are not obliged to use any standard, not even unicode in visual form. Or there are even cases of misusing these symbols, for instance, triangles instead of bullets.
Question: What material is used in Spain for this signages, either Braille or tactile ones?
Answer: In spain the usually make signs accessible on the standard basic materials the signs are normally made of. The tricky part is to find out how to make the sign accessible with Braille so that it is long lasting and resistant to weather conditions. It simply always has to be some material, which can last for long time.
Question: talking about relief, how do you consider the importance of lettering – braille and tactile latin letters. Should they always stand together wherever is possible, or is it enough to write things down in Braille or only in latin letters? Should we advocate always for both even if the space for the sign is limited or the designers can not manage both to fit in?
Answer: If it is about some sign of two or three letters, mostly numbers, it is no problem to put both and it even has sense. Concerning the possibility of internationally recognizable latin tactile symbol regardless of the Braille code standard of that country. But more than three four letters, the sign in tactile latin form would probably take more time to read and would not be so easy to use. For elevator for example, it is no problem to read a number.
In Germany, there is an obligation to make both, relief latin letters and braille. Sometimes, there is not enough space for both of course. Then, there is also standard for tactile latin lettering. There was a scripture developed for this. It is optimized for reading by fingers. The standard speaks about so-called pyramid letters, it means the edge or lines of the each letters are very sharp and distinguishable. On the bottom part of the letters, the letters are a bit wider, getting thinner towards the top of letters. So if you do it this way, the letters are quite well and fast readable. But the problem is, that most of the times, it is not possible to do both, latin and braille letters because of technical issues. And then, there are even more problems, when some institutions like museums say: we use our own special scripture for all the exhibition, and we want to have relief letters in the same scripture. And then it opens ground for discussions and explanations, why the relief letters of any special scripture are not readable.
But there is very important group of people to be considered in this matter. Elderly people, who get blind and does not want or can not learn braille. For them it is easyer to try to recognize letters they knew whole life.
Thinking about this, it has to be also considered, that these people normally very seldom navigate in the environment on their own. Usually, they have a sighted guide. They very seldom need to read the signs and wonder about them whether they are in tactile relief or braille. It might perhaps be better to have some obligation for large print letters optimized for partially sighted people + Braille.
In Spain, we are recently recommending QR codes with some relief sign on the top of QR code to be recognized by touch. The code is usually enclosed in the square boarding the QR code. Or sometimes it can even be with Braille letters „QR“, if it is big enough.
Some signs are very easy to make to relief, for example Wifi sign – it is easy to understand in relief.
In France, it is obligatory to use tactile letters and braille in the lifts only. But the tactile numbers are usually too thick to read.
In United Kingdom, it is a convention to have both tactile letters (raised-print) and Braille, where you possibly can. But in some situations, for example trains, where is limited space, you have braille and below it just a relief symbol, for example arrow, to open a door. The braille is now in busses too.
In Germany, in the trains, there are even seat numbers in Braille and tactile letters.
Question: What to do about the buzzers in the entrance of block of flats. If you want to visit somebody, recently these buzzers are replaced by the touchscreens with names of the inhabitants. What could be done about this?
Answer: People from Once were called many times from the property communities saying that whoever manufactured the grid for the buzzers in braille, did not know about the Braille anything. So any blind person who would come to visit somebody, would buzz a wrong flat easylly, as the braille did not correspond to the buzzers.
So this would be very very difficult to solve due to the very wide variety of producers of these buzzers and difficult to make sure the braille corresponding them.
But back to the question about the obligation of having tactile letters along with Braille in every public space… Should we say that it is our proposal to have the Braille as the priority when signing public spaces for blind people and that these raised letters are not so important?
Answers of disputants:
As a user I would say: the Braille is for sure faster to read and the relief letters are slower to read. And even if it is not for everyone, I would say the Braille is the priority. Of course, putting both is the optimum. But in any case Braille should not be missing. Even if we want to promote braille, we want everybody to learn it. It is our natural way of writting.
You would exclude people this way. You will exclude people who loose their sight as adults. People, who were used to work with computers, they are fast to grasp the compoter from the blind perspective and do not need the braille in their life. Why should we exclude them?
IN UK, the Braille is the priority always. When there is not enough space. But there have to be also raised symbols. So if the sign is too small, it has to have at least braille and raised symbol, if not the text in raised print. It is also helpful for partially sighted people – to feel or see the relief symbol.
This topic includes drawing of the blind people. We have very few time, so just some opinions on this. Drawings like geometry and such… Can a blind person draw a person with long hair as such we spoke about today? for instance?
Answers of the disputants:
I think it is very important to teach drawing, not only geometry, but also drawing the pictures, person, animals, objects… It develops the imagination and spatial feeling and this kind of things. I had a course at school and I think it helped me a lot. And I am always advocating for this that they keep it at schools, whether it is a special school or standard school with inclusive education system.
In the UK, we have a standard for creating an accessible images. It can be found on the website of UKAAF UK Association for accessible formats. But this accessible image creation or drawing should be shared with students as well, it might make even braille learning process more interesting.
IN the UK, all the standards should be available in UKAAF webpage.
once a person is completely blind from the birth, there are limitations in understanding the drawing. It is very difficult to look at object for example from different perspectives and even drawing of these different perspectives. Theoretically I can uderstand it, but it is not easy for me.
Yes, but one thing is to recognize something, and another thing is to learn to recognize it and how to express something. Once you learn how to imagine things and how to see them from different perspectives, it helps you to have better imagination when orienting in the space later on.
yes, well sure, it is very important but sometimes it can be very difficult.
There are two important things, material/production of these maps and then symbols used on these maps.
In the Spanish braille commission we have full collection of continential political maps, already in use. They are in relief but also with high contrast colours for visually impaired. Few years ago we started to produce phisical topographic maps. We started few years ago with a map of europe. This did not come out very nicely, we are going to change that. But recently we created a phisical topographic map of spain, which we are very proud of. It is very accessible, with high relief, different areas of relief and with high contrast colouring. Soon we will show you these maps in real. We developed a set of rules on how to create political maps. For now, we do not have rules on topographic maps. That is really a challenge. It is difficult to decide on the height of relief, how high to go with plastic picture, then combine it with colour print…
And then there have to be rules on braille, where to put it, how it should be done… And then also ink-print has to go to the map. We do not use much symbols in maps, because, as we spoke before, symbols are not universal. They are not standardized. Our symbols don’t need to be german symbols or British symbols etc… So we use very few symbols, like dots or small squares for towns or big cities, capital cities… Something though, what is very very easy to understand. Still, every map goes with a guide, a legend, that explains all the symbols and braille letters and everything what is on the map.
Specific surface of relief can be also a symbol. Like smooth for water.
Yes, well sure, we use that. Different texture is used. For example countries or lands which are not part of the map, just outlined ones, are different texture and so on. Yes, of course.
We also have QR codes on all of our maps. They take you to the ONCE website, where you have all the information about the map. But the symbology is one of the things we haven;t touched so far. Because it is very difficult. There are no standardized or widely used symbols with international significance. Every country can have their own, or even their own colours for highest peaks and lowlands. It is difficult. Everything could be standardized. But as we said in maths and science discussion, it needs experts to join on these topics and talk, as they did in the music. So that is what we do with our maps and we are happy to share any of our rules or knowledge. For now on the rules are in spanish, but anyone is free to take them and translate.
The rules are on the website of ONCE and also on livingbraille.eu
Our aim is to now move on from the phisical map of Spain to the phisical map of other countries. And of course revise the political maps accordingly to all new changes. And we are working on this now.
General production process:
make the image on the computer using high contrast colour. There was a internet study on contrast colours, which colours match better with others, to assure that always you have a high contrast. That is very important for political maps, as each country has a different colour. In the phisical maps it is tougher, because there are diferent colours according to relief height and so on.
You just draw the picture in the computer with a professional drawing tool, and then you print it on the plastic which is going to be used for the map. Once it is printed there, you just use matrix to emboss the relief – make a thermoform copy of the map on the plastic sheet. So you print the image first and then emboss the map.
Some maps are produced with colourful ink-print map on the sheet and then overlay of transparent relief over the map. So map was in ink-print and relief over it.
Yes, well it is another technique. And we do it in Austria exactly this way. Standard in-print map on paper and transparent relief. And they go together.
In Spain we use this technique, one sheet only for all, but we have to adopt the ink-colour image for being embossed on later on. All is adopted more for touching, wider lines for rivers and so on. Matrix is made with CNC machine. But the techniques can be different, most important is to create matrix for embossing then later to the plastic sheet.
We use thermoform machine, standard thermoform machine to emboss the matrix in the plastic sheet. We will talk about the printing techniques in the following discussion.