Talking Signs

Talking Signs technology is an infrared wireless communications system that provides remote directional human voice messages that make confident, independent travel possible for vision impaired and print-handicapped individuals....

The system consists of short audio signals sent by invisible infrared light beams from permanently installed transmitters to a hand-held receiver that decodes the signal and delivers the voice message through its speaker or headset. The signals are directional, and the beam width and distance can be adjusted. The system works effectively in both interior and exterior applications.

Talking Signs may be used wherever landmark identification and wayfinding assisstance are needed. To use a Talking Signs system, the user scans the environment with the hand-held receiver. As individual signals are encountered, the user hears the messages. For example, upon entering a lobby, one might detect ‘information desk’ when pointing the receiver directly ahead, ‘public telephones’ when pointing to the right and ‘stairs to the second floor’ when pointing to the left.

Messages are unique and short, simple and straightforward. The messages repeat, continuously identifying key features in the environment.”

The site notes that the San Francisco City Council has passed a resolution calling for the installation of talking signs at all public facilities, including 600 in the San Francisco Airport. The devices have already been installed in several San Francisco public spaces including subway stations, crosswalks, libraries, and public toilets. The Japanese government is installing 2,000 signs at key intersections throughout Japan.

Here’s a diagram of how it works.

Talking Signs’s Ohio representative writes:

“With remote infrared audible signage we [the vision impaired] can independently become oriented to unfamiliar places, cross streets safely while staying in the crosswalk, create mental maps that translate to a broader orientation and enjoy a type of freedom that the sighted community just takes for granted. Orientation to public places is a civil right, as surely as getting into the building or using the telephone. Yet, when you look around you, where are the talking signs?... As the old saying goes, we have the technology. What we now need is the advocacy.”

>  27 September 2002 | LINK | Filed in , , ,

Universal Design New York

“New York City has a long history of protecting the rights and enhancing the opportunities of the disabled. In fact, our Human Rights Law contains provisions for the disabled that go above and beyond the Americans with Disabilities Act. I am proud that our City is continuing its leadership role by becoming the first in the Nation to release a book to help architects, designers, urban planners, and developers make their structures equally accessible to all.

Universal Design New York was created by the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities and the Department of Design and Construction, in cooperation with the New York City Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. It describes the concept of universal design and illustrates many useful examples of this innovative design philosophy. This guide also addresses myths associated with the cost of this approach and provides a model for other municipalities to follow.

From a letter by former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in the introduction to Universal Design New York. Kind words of support from the Mayor, unless of course you need a public toilet or are disabled and poor, in which case Mr. Giuliani would deny you social security, housing or shelter.

In the preface to the book, Catherine Paradiso, Executive Director of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities and Kenneth R. Holden, Commissioner of the NYC Department of Design and Construction, write:

This book was developed to help the community of people who develop the City’s real estate and infrastructure learn about universal design. When implemented properly it removes many of the problems associated with trying to meet requirements of both the NYC building code and the Federal Americans with Disabilities Act. In fact, when designing from this paradigm, some regulations are met with ease. For example, a pedestrian pathway that is gradually sloped from the curb to the entrance eliminates the need for a ramp. Another example would be installing automatic doors instead of manual doors. Distributing and integrating accessible seats throughout a theater is yet another. These examples demonstrate how access and regulations come together to create a better environment for everyone when using universal design criteria.

This book contains many examples that make accessibility easier for the general population. When all aspects of designing in a space are universal, everything becomes easier for everyone. Children, people who have learning/cognitive, vision or hearing impairments, people who use wheeled mobility devices, senior citizens, people of short stature, parents carrying children or packages - we all benefit from universal design.

Universal Design New York is intended for two audiences. Public agencies and environmental design and construction professionals hired by the City make up the first group. They can use it to design sidewalks and street crossings, parks, community centers, shelters, museums, and any of the many other types of buildings and facilities that the City builds. The second audience consists of developers and designers of privately constructed facilities in the City. These include hotels, office buildings, restaurants and theaters, to name just a few. Any designer can apply the principles of universal design to any project....

Information in this book demonstrates how demographic trends will increase demand for universal design. Looking to get ahead of that trend, the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities and the Department of Design and Construction believe that now is the time to implement universal design practices. Many of the products the City buys and virtually all of the buildings the City builds today are going to be here for a long time. We should be planning today for the time when the need for universal design will be obvious to all.

Check out the table of contents. As stated above, the site is chock full of examples with photos.

This guidebook purposely avoids recommending prescriptive design standards for the universal design of buildings. Instead, it provides general guidelines designed to broaden and enhance the usability of buildings for everyone.

This guidebook’s visual illustrations of successful applications of certain universal design guidelines are not meant to be copied or imitated. Rather, they are provided to promote a general understanding of the concept - i.e., to stimulate extension of the principles to other building applications.

Many thanks to the Inclusive Design and Environmental Access School of Architecture and Planning at University at Buffalo for posting the book online.

>  24 September 2002 | LINK | Filed in , , ,

A Silent Revolution

From The Guardian, Thursday July 11, 2002:

“While the internet has affected most of us somehow, it has transformed the lives of deaf people, especially the young, by overcoming two barriers that make many deaf people feel isolated. One is the geographic barrier separating deaf people from each other: there are about 673,000 severely or profoundly deaf adults in the UK, spread all over the country. They can’t just pick up the phone and talk (although the introduction of textphones has made communication easier.)

...Technologies such as email, instant messaging and chat rooms mean that deaf people can contact old friends and make new ones anywhere in the world. There are plenty of resources on the web specifically targeted at deaf people, such as and - a set of Yahoo-based discussion groups where lively debates take place.

Another language barrier, that which divides speakers of British sign language and American sign language, also melts away. The internet touches almost every aspect of life. It’s much easier to shop online if you’re deaf than to make a shop assistant understand what you want. Similarly, the educational opportunities of deaf people, few of whom go on to higher education, could be transformed by distance learning. Even more significant is the chance to work. ‘Email has the potential to revolutionise the employment prospects,’ says Nathan Charlton, a consultant at the Royal National Institute for Deaf People. Email gives deaf people, who have twice the unemployment rates of hearing people, the ability not only to communicate with hearing colleagues easily, but to share in news they might otherwise be excluded from.”

While TDD, Telecommunications Device for the Deaf, and TTY, Text Telephone or TeleType, have been around since the 60’s, compatibility issues and competing standards have slowed widespread adoption. No doubt the expense of an additional technology to service a minority population has been a factor as well.

Electronic text messaging, however, is already integrated into most cellphones. The deaf, hard-of-hearing and speech are widely using Short Messaging Service (SMS) text messaging. Reuters reports that a survey carried out with the Birmingham Institute of the Deaf showed that 98 percent of hearing-impaired people in the UK use SMS text messaging. Following the survey, a British police department adopted SMS to let hearing- and speech-impaired people report emergencies. This article tells of Chieko Takayama, an employee of Japanese cellphone company J-Phone, and her work at a store in Tokyo that specifically markets to hearing-impaired customers.

Guardian article found via plep.

>  17 September 2002 | LINK | Filed in , , ,

Minimally Invasive Education

“13 months ago [Sugata Mitra] launched something he calls ‘the hole in the wall experiment.’ He took a PC connected to a high-speed data connection and imbedded it in a concrete wall next to NIIT’s headquarters in the south end of New Delhi. The wall separates the company’s grounds from a garbage-strewn empty lot used by the poor as a public bathroom. Mitra simply left the computer on, connected to the Internet, and allowed any passerby to play with it. He monitored activity on the PC using a remote computer and a video camera mounted in a nearby tree. What he discovered was that the most avid users of the machine were ghetto kids aged 6 to 12, most of whom have only the most rudimentary education and little knowledge of English. Yet within days, the kids had taught themselves to draw on the computer and to browse the Net. The physicist has since installed a computer in a rural neighborhood with similar results.”

>  4 August 2002 | LINK | Filed in , , ,

Universal Bathroom

The Industrial Designers Society of America has announced the 2002 winners of their Industrial Design Excellence Awards. Note the Universal Bathrooms developed by the Kelley Design Group and University at Buffalo for the National Institute of Disability & Rehabilitation Research.

“The Universal Bathroom concept uses two entries, movable fixtures and movable panels to retrofit existing bathrooms for universal design. Because many people are aging, become disabled, etc., and do not want to move from their house, retrofitting the bathroom is an economically viable and a physically easier alternative than moving to another location.”

See also the PediaPod, Automatic Public Toilet, and Universal Bedpan.

>  4 July 2002 | LINK | Filed in , ,

New York Subway Interface

I love a good rant. Lars Pinds has a couple on the voice, turnstiles, and Metrocard vending machines of the New York City Subway.

Ben Rubin has his own proposal for the subway’s audio cues.

>  29 May 2002 | LINK | Filed in , , , ,

Design for our Future Selves, II

The AgeLab was established at MIT in 1999, as a partnership with industry and the aging community, to develop new technologies promoting healthy, independent living throughout the human lifespan. Our research involves an array of disciplines including engineering, computer science, human factors, health and medical sciences, management, marketing, and the social and behavioral sciences. All of our work is motivated by a shared belief that the appropriate use of technology, along with innovations in its delivery, can have a significant impact on the quality of life for older people, their families and caregivers.”

See the article at Metropolis Magazine.

>  21 May 2002 | LINK | Filed in , , ,

Universal Design for the Web

Bobby was created by [The Center for Applied Technology] to help Web page authors identify and repair significant barriers to access by individuals with disabilities.... CAST is a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to expand opportunities for people with disabilities through innovative uses of computer technology.” Enter a URL and get detailed recommendations on how to make your site more accessible. Note, being “Bobby Approved” does not necessarily mean your site is accessible.

>  16 May 2002 | LINK | Filed in , ,

Architecutral Navigation for the Visually Impaired

Sometimes it’s not enough to just add Braille to your signage.

Coco Raynes Associates, Inc. developed The Raynes Rail to provide the missing link between the entrance of a building and the desired location. Continuous Braille messages and audio devices positioned at strategic locations provide the impaired traveler with a degree of independence previously unattainable in unknown surroundings.”

The concept is simple: a handrail that incorporates Braille messages. It has been installed in hospitals, hotels, and museums, both indoors and outdoors. The system is modular, so the Braille messages can easily be changed. The audio messages are activated by photosensors and permit multilingual applications.

>  6 May 2002 | LINK | Filed in , ,

Design for our Future Selves

“The Helen Hamlyn Research Centre explores the implications of social change. Its focus is ‘design for our future selves’ — using design to improve quality of life for people of all ages and abilities. It has four core social change themes: ageing populations, changing patterns of work, mobility for all, innovation in care and rehabilitation. The Centre collaborates with the staff and students of the Royal College of Art and with a range of external commercial, academic, government and charitable partners.”

Research projects cover graphic, package, industrial, architectural, transportation, and urban design.

>  5 May 2002 | LINK | Filed in , , , , ,

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