Melbourne to be hit by braille “bomb” to showcase accessibility

Posted 2 years ago by Anna Christian
The braille alphabet and braille slates will be used to create accessible labels to place around Melbourne. [Source: Monash University]
The braille alphabet and braille slates will be used to create accessible labels to place around Melbourne. [Source: Monash University]

A group of people will walk the streets of Melbourne on Wednesday placing braille labels on signs across the city to get the community engaged in thinking about accessibility.

The Accessible Melbourne Braille Bombing Tour is being run by Monash University in partnership with the Australian Braille Authority and is part of narrm ngarrgu – Melbourne Knowledge Week (MKW), a festival focusing on sharing ideas and fostering innovation to shape a better future.

The group taking part in the tour will learn the braille alphabet and then create the labels for signs using a braille slate.

Researcher Leona Holloway of the Inclusive Technologies Research Group at Monash University says the idea for the braille bombing came from yarn bombing events she has previously been involved in.

“This is a worldwide phenomenon decorating the streets with knitting and crochet to spread cheer – and I thought that braille bombing would be equally fun but also send an important message about accessibility and inclusion, while taking a small practical step towards addressing inequities,” explains Ms Holloway.

“Braille bombing the streets of Melbourne is an extension of what should happen any time that a blind braille reader starts using a new home, school room or office – you go through the space, find any items that can’t be recognised by sight and add braille labels.

“For example, on flat touch buttons on the microwave or the difference between the rubbish and recycling bins.”

While Ms Holloway says Melbourne already has a lot of built environment accessibility features – such as tactile ground surface indicators (the bright yellow hazard bumps along the train platform), pram ramps and traffic signals with tactile arrows and audio signals – she believes there is always more that can be done, like installing braille signage and labelling.

“As inclusive technology researchers we are exploring how emerging technologies like 3D printing, low-cost electronics, refreshable tactile displays, artificial intelligence, machine learning and computer vision can be used to support the lives of people living with disability while empowering them, their families and communities with shared knowledge,” she says.

Getting the community involved in further improving accessibility, through initiatives like the braille bombing, is important to Ms Holloway.

“The Inclusive Technologies Group is interested not just in research but also in real world impact,” explains Ms Holloway.

“This is best achieved through partnering with the community, so that we understand the needs of all stakeholders when considering what technologies may be able to assist people with disabilities, and how these technologies can best be used.

“Stakeholders include people living with disabilities, their families and support systems, as well as anyone providing mainstream services that people with disabilities would like to access.”

Ms Holloway says researchers are “keen to connect” with people and organisations who would like to work on accessibility and that raising awareness of this work is also important to encourage people in the community to think about inclusion in their everyday lives.

“This could be in terms of the built environment, the technologies we use, the language we use and in our interactions with others,” she says.

“We would love for the braille bombing event to spur people to think about one small thing they could do.

“For example, do you add alt text with a description of the photographs that you share on social media so that it will be read aloud for blind people?”

Although this week’s braille bombing tour is only being held in Melbourne, Ms Holloway says the Australian Braille Authority has groups in Sydney and Brisbane interested in similar events.

The Monash University’s Inclusive Technology Research Group is also hosting similar events this week to promote accessibility, including activities where visitors will:

  • Attempt to identify 3D printed map icons using touch
  • Explore audio label options for physical objects
  • Ask questions of an interactive 3D model of the Royal Botanic Gardens, which will respond via audio
  • See how infographics can be more accessible through ‘InfoSonics’ – a combination of speech labels, audio data and audio samples
  • Be given a motivational quote in braille to post somewhere in their local community

For more information or to register for the free Melbourne tour, visit the MKW website.