College ignores pleas of blind student

Langara chooses to install raised text that student can't read

Soma Ali, a student at Langara who is blind, struggles to navigate campus due to a lack of braille on signs. Joshua Rey photo.
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Reported by: Joshua Rey

Despite the Canadian government agreeing to abide by standards set in a 2010 UN convention that mandates braille signs in indoor and outdoor facilities including schools, Vancouver building codes have not followed suit. As such, neither have some schools — like Langara College.

Langara College has been able to mostly side-step blind general studies student Soma Ali’s requests to install more braille signs on campus to that identify rooms.

“It’s been difficult and it still is,” said Ali, who has prosthetic eyes and navigates campus with her guide dog, Elsie. “I was happy I found a braille sign at the washroom near the Tim Hortons but I wish the signs were everywhere on campus.”

Soma Ali and her guide dog, Elsie, outside a woman’s washroom on campus. The signs don’t have braille which makes it hard for Ali to navigate.
Joshua Rey photo.
Raised text vs. braille

After Ali, in her third year at Langara, made her case to the college in 2016 and again last October, she was told the college would install raised text instead of braille. The college did, in fact, install a few braille signs, but Ali said she was never informed.

Ali, who cannot read raised text because she has never learned the traditional Latin alphabet, said this doesn’t help her and is not good enough.

Joan Billesberger from Canadian Braille Service said raised text signs require more space to create the lettering and therefore are not as efficient. She said it’s better to use braille because other navigation methods, such as smart phone apps, run the risk of a dying battery.

Ali quickly appealed the college’s decision to City Hall, and was told last month in an email from city project coordinator Allison Min that Vancouver bylaws do not mandate braille. But Min, who forwarded the letter to The Voice, did write she thought Ali’s request for more braille was reasonable.

For now, Ali relies on what little braille she can find, and Elsie to get around campus.

“There needs to braille on things, such as the school directory and in places like the bookstore,” Ali said. “All elevators, washrooms and classrooms need braille.”

A need to work together

According to the head of Langara Accessibility Services Suzanne Munson, accessibility services and facilities work together to make sure to address accessibility related issues.

Billesberger, who makes braille sign stickers that act as a temporary solution, said she made a few sample signs for Langara College Accessibility Services. Billesberger was told the college would be in touch if more are needed.

The Voice attempted to follow up with Langara’s Accessibility Services about the stickers, but did not receive a response by print deadline.

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