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accessibility exhibits

Braille on the FDR Memorial

Dr. Fogle-Hatch touching Braille on the wall of the FDR Memorial
Dr. Cheryl Fogle-Hatch touches the Braille letter F in Franklin in the prologue room, FDR Memorial

Recently, I evaluated the accessibility of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) Memorial located on the National Mall in Washington D.C. My observations describe the experience of people who are blind or have low vision.

I describe my observations, and recommendations for improvements, in a report commissioned by the FDR Memorial Legacy Committee.

The Braille Carved into the Walls of the FDR Memorial

The Braille ranges from somewhat readable to completely unrecognizable. My assessment is based on two facts:

differences in horizontal and vertical spacing, and contrasts in raised versus indented dots.

I know that the Braille is not an accurate representation of my first and primary writing system—the pattern of dots that I learned as a child. Yet, I am impressed by the inventive and abstract nature of the artwork. The lack of interpretation about size and spacing of the Braille carvings means that sighted visitors cannot know the contradictions expressed by the abstract artwork that invites tactile experience. They think that the Braille is accurate, but it is distorted when read by touch.

Signs created in print, and Braille at the correct scale, would explain this fact.

My evaluation of the oversized and abstract Braille depicted on the FDR Memorial has been left out of previous accessibility reviews conducted by the National Park Service, the federal agency that manages memorials on the National Mall. These issues of representation are important, and I believe that aspect of the artwork deserves a place in any newly-created signs or interpretive media. I would welcome the chance to discuss such issues with park staff and consultants.

I think the inaccurate representation of Braille is comparable to the large statue of FDR where a desk chair with wheels was substituted for his actual wheelchair.

An acknowledgement of this parallel between inaccurate Braille and the desk chair with wheels enriches the experience of everyone because it shows the extent of misconceptions about crucial tools that people with disabilities use to perform so many essential daily tasks.

I wrote this post about the archives of the campaign for the wheelchair statue.

I made other recommendations in my report including:

•            Create tactile models of the oversized statues and the memorial itself

•            Add Text-based directions and wayfinding to the brochures and website

•            Build barriers around the broken fountains

My review of documentation provided by the National Park Service indicates that park staff have proposed solutions for creating tactile models, wayfinding, and mitigating safety concerns. In those cases, my recommendations are offered to strengthen future projects. Unfortunately, these documents do not include an acknowledgement of the oversized and abstract Braille carved on the walls of the FDR Memorial.

Press coverage

FDR memorial braille not easily readable – The Washington Post

A disabled president’s memorial still isn’t fully accessible to disabled visitors, a new report finds.

By

Theresa Vargas

Columnist

May 19, 2021 at 7:07 p.m. EDT

Event recording

I presented highlights from my report in a webinar “Accessibility is NOT Optional” on May 20, 2021. Here are the recording and transcript of that event.