Braille and Its Role in AODA Implementation

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What is the Braille System?

Braille is a tactile system of raised dots, each one representing letters of the alphabet, numbers, punctuation and symbols. To read braille, fingers glide gently over paper (or other surfaces) that has been embossed with the braille code. Braille is, to a person who experiences vision loss, what printed words are to persons who are sighted. It provides access to both information and contact with the outside world. To a person who experiences vision loss, braille compares to printed words for sighted individuals. 

Braille’s History

Braille has been an effective means of communication for the visually impaired and the blind since it was invented in 1829 by Louis Braille in Paris, France. Hampered by loss of sight at the age of three due to an eye injury, he was frustrated with the large and bulky raised letter alphabet used to learn reading and writing skills in school. Later in his life, based on an idea presented to him by a French artillery officer, he began experimenting with a tactile code, which many years later he developed into the successful reading and writing system that is still in use around the world today.

The English Alphabet in Braille


Braille’s Role in AODA Implementation

Accessibility issues are governed by complementary aspects of the Ontario Human Rights Code (OHRC), the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) 2005, the Ontario Building Code and the Ontario Fire Code. The AODA provisions have a timetable for implementation (within seven years); however, the Human Rights Code supersedes all these regulations – making it clear that services and facilities must accommodate individuals with disabilities in a way that promotes integration and full participation – and applies to new construction, renovations and existing buildings.

Signage is essential in helping all individuals safely navigate a building and its surroundings. Proper design and installation reduces barriers and improves safety for everyone using the facility regardless of age, disability or language.

Tactile and braille signs identify entrances, exits, means of egress, directions, information, regulations, safety, rooms, washrooms, elevators, stairs, etc. – and each one must also include a pictogram that is consistent with international standards.

Canada doesn’t have one program as a whole; however, because the AODA is stricter than the signage specifications detailed in the Canadian Standards Association’s “Accessible Design for the Built Environment” (CAN/CSA-B651), it is likely that other provinces and territories will emulate the AODA when developing their programs.

Section 6.4 of the CSA accessibility standards addresses items pertaining to Braille, detailing very specific requirements and restrictions for signage, such as:

  • Grade 1 Braille (no contractions are permitted to accommodate both official languages)
  • Tactile Characters and Symbols (sans serif fonts, upper and lower case letters)
  • Character Proportion (width/height ratio between 1:5 and 1:10, based on uppercase ‘O’ or ‘X’)
  • Tonal Contrast (at least 70%)
  • Matt or Glare-free Surface
  • Illumination (minimum of 200lx)
  • No Colour Contrast Recommendation
  • Sign Height: 1500 mm (59”) off Ground Surfaces
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