The Low Vision Design Committee of the National Institute of Building Sciences Needs You

Photo of a step and threshold marked with yellow paint and black marking tape to increase its visibility

The National Institute of Building Sciences is in the process of forming a multidisciplinary open committee to explore how design of the built environment can affect the needs of the millions of people with low vision in the United States.

The Low Vision Design Committee

The Low Vision Design Committee is a direct outcome of the Workshop on Improving Building Design for Persons with Low Vision, sponsored by the U.S. General Services Administration and the Institute in 2010. To express an interest in joining the Committee, send an email with your contact information to the Institute’s Low Vision Design Committee.

Low Vision and the Built Environment

One of my major professional interests is the implementation of appropriate and helpful environmental modifications for people with vision loss. I’ve always loved houses and architecture, so perhaps this interest in modifying my surroundings evolved from my fascination with the built environment. I’ve authored Making Life More Livable: Simple Adaptations for Living at Home After Vision Loss and have made it a habit to carry a camera (for ideas, examples, and documentation) whenever I venture outside my door.

To better understand accessibility in the built environment, it’s helpful to begin with a discussion of effective and informative signage for people who are visually impaired or have low vision.

Print basics

Use large print letters in simple fonts on a matte, non-glare, contrasting background; either black letters on a white background or white letters on black are recommended.

Serifs and sans-serif typefaces

Serifs are details on the ends of some strokes that comprise letters and symbols. A typeface with these strokes and details is called “serif.” A typeface without these details is called “sans-serif,” from the French “sans,” meaning “without.” In many cases, the use of fonts with serifs can reduce the readability of print for people with low vision. Therefore, sans-serif typefaces/fonts are the recommended print options.

Here’s an illustration and comparison of serif and sans-serif fonts:

Three rows of type. Top row is sans-serif font. Second row is serif font. Third row has serifs accentuated in red.

Tactile signs

Tactile signs are recommended for individuals with no sight or whose vision is not sufficient to distinguish individual characters on a printed sign. To be effective, a tactile sign should be embossed, not engraved, and mounted at a height between 5 and 5½ feet where it can be touched easily.

This tactile sign also contains braille lettering:

A toilet sign in French and English, with dark blue background, white male and female figure outlines, and braille

Take Action and Follow Up

To request more information, send an email with your contact details to the National Institute of Building Sciences Low Vision Design Committee.

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