Dr. Cheryl Fogle-Hatch touching wayside in the Prologue Room with FDR statue in the background.

In 2021, I visited the Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) Memorial located on the National Mall in Washington D.C, and I documented accessibility concerns for people who are blind or have low vision. Recently, I produced a second report that describes new, accessible, exhibits that were installed by the National Park Service, NPS, the federal agency that administers memorials on the National Mall. The new signs, called waysides, include information in print, Braille, and audio formats and they feature tactile models of some of the statues at the Memorial.

Both of my reports were commissioned by the FDR Memorial Legacy Committee. They can be downloaded from this press release.

A major topic in both of my reports is the artistic Braille on the walls of the FDR Memorial. In 2021, I explained that the artistic Braille was created at a size and scale that is difficult to read by touch. 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 artistic 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 artistic Braille means that sighted visitors cannot know the contradictions expressed by the abstract artwork that invites tactile experience. They do not know that the artistic Braille cannot be read by touch.

The Braille text on the new waysides installed in 2022 is at the correct scale for reading Braille by touch. However, NPS missed the opportunity to inform visitors of this fact. Text could be added to the waysides explaining the differences between the artistic Braille on the walls of the FDR Memorial and the readable Braille on the waysides. I think that if differences between artistic and readable Braille are explained, visitors to the FDR Memorial might gain a more nuanced understanding of this important writing system for people who are blind.

Signs that explain the addition of a statue of FDR in his wheelchair provide a model for discussing artistic Braille. When the FDR Memorial opened on May 2, 1997, there was no depiction of FDR as a wheelchair user. The disability community led a six-year campaign for disability representation. On January 10, 2001, the Prologue Room of the FDR Memorial was dedicated as “the completion” of the FDR Memorial and includes a life-sized statue of FDR in a wheelchair by the sculptor Robert Graham.

NPS has signs that explain the history of the wheelchair statue. In my 2022 report, I recommended similar text that describes differences between artistic and readable Braille.

The accessible waysides are a welcome addition to improving access to the FDR Memorial for visitors who are blind or have low vision. I recommended that NPS should add information about the differences between readable Braille on the waysides and artistic Braille on the walls of Memorial itself. This would be a welcome step to inform the three million people who visit the FDR Memorial each year about the importance of readable Braille in public places.

Media Coverage

I was interviewed by two reporters who cover the D.C. area.

The FDR Memorial steps up accessibility for visually-impaired visitors WTOP July 26, 2022  

Steve Dorsey of CBS News originally reported on the artistic Braille on the FDR Memorial in 2019. When he interviewed me, he played audio from that story featuring a blind man who read the quote behind the FDR wheelchair statue letter-by-letter just as I described it in my 2021 report.

In his 2022 segment, Steve added a short quote from me about the readable Braille on the new exhibits. Steve’s 2022 story aired on the podcast “Weekend Roundup” for August 5. It can be found in both Apple and Google podcast players.

Listen to the 2019 story

Bad Braille Plagues Buildings Across U-S-CBS-News Radio Investigation Finds

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