Categories
accessibility

News About The Braille on the FDR Memorial

The National Park Service (NPS) has finally acknowledged that there are issues with the size and spacing of the Braille Carved into the Walls of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. This update is posted on the accessibility page for the FDR Memorial.

Here is part of their statement.

“The artists used elements of Braille in several of the sculptures, but the size and spacing is inconsistent and was only meant to be an artistic representation.”

And “The Braille in Room 2 on the bas relief panels are the different New Deal program acronyms, but larger than life and disjointed. Those that read Braille will find them difficult to decipher.”

I documented problems with size and spacing of Braille in a report commissioned by the FDR Memorial Legacy Committee.

Here is my description of the Braille.

 “The Braille ranges from somewhat readable to completely unrecognizable. This includes the quote in the Prologue Room and the letters on the workers mural and the quotes on the columns in Room One.  My assessment is based on two facts: differences in horizontal and vertical spacing, and contrasts in raised versus indented dots.”

Although the NPS did not credit my report, I am glad that the agency recognized that the Braille is abstract and artistic.  This is a small step towards improving accessibility at the FDR Memorial.

It is important to note that the NPS published this site update on July 26, 2021, the 31st Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Also on that day, the FDR Memorial Legacy Committee held a public ceremony commemorating the ADA and honored disability leaders past and present, especially those who fought to add the wheelchair statue to the FDR Memorial. Two speakers at the event, Senator Tammy Duckworth and Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton sponsored a Resolution calling on the NPS to improve accessibility at the FDR Memorial. Senator Tammy Duckworth discussed the problems with the Braille in her speech.

Kym Hall, National Capital Area Director, National Park Service also spoke at this ceremony. Director Hall did not mention the Braille, but she talked about audio described tours and other accessibility improvements.

I found the updated text about the Braille when I was on the FDR Memorial accessibility webpage looking for the audio described tour.

Dr. Fogle Hatch touches a column in the Memorial with her left hand. She holds a white cane in her right hand.
Categories
accessibility exhibits

Braille on 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.

Categories
exhibits

A Presidential Project

On this inauguration day, January 20, 2021, I am highlighting an important project documenting a historical president. Franklin D. Roosevelt (known by his initials FDR, was the 32nd President of the United States from 1933-1945. He was the architect of the New Deal and the Commander-in-Chief during World War II.

FDR also had a physical disability. In 1921, he contracted polio at age 39 and he became a wheelchair user.

FDR visited wounded veterans while remaining in his wheelchair, but he wore steel leg braces that allowed him to stand at public events.

The FDR Memorial commemorates his leadership during the Great Depression and World War II. However, when it opened in 1997, it did not accurately represent his physical disability.

More than 50 disability organizations from across the country supported the FDR Wheelchair Statue Campaign. Sixteen Roosevelt grandchildren agreed that FDR should be shown as a person with a disability. The FDR Wheelchair Statue was dedicated in 2001.

The FDR Memorial Legacy Committee is a project of the National Council on Independent Living that documents this campaign through an archive of oral histories and media clips.

The announcement of this archive states that:

“The FDR Memorial Legacy Committee (FDR Committee), as part of the DC Community Heritage Project (DCCHP), proudly unveiled the initial archives chronicling the history of the fight for disability representation” that “was led by people with disabilities from 1995-2001.”

Please visit the archive to learn about this important campaign for disability representation.

“During the unveiling event, disability rights advocates Judy Heumann and Dr. I King Jordan reflected on the impact of the campaign to represent FDR as a disabled president and the collective work that still needs to be accomplished to ensure equitable disability representation. Dr. I King Jordan exclaimed, “Disability is not talked about. People talk about diversity, equity, inclusion and disability needs to be included in those conversations. This archive is a visual way to do that.”

I wholeheartedly agree with Dr. Jordan’s statement. It was my honor to evaluate the archives for their accessibility, and my privilege to learn about this overlooked aspect of presidential history.