Braille Plates Installed In Harvard's Elevators

As part of an ongoing effort to make University buildings accessible to the blind, Braille number plates were installed on elevators throughout the Harvard campus during winter break.

The $2000 effort represents the first stage of a two-part program to mark Harvard facilities with Braille signs, said Celia M. Kent of the Physical Resources Office. Kent said her office has ordered custom name plates for the main entrances to Yard classrooms and dormitories, and will install them within the next few months.

Kent said the program was suggested last year by Cara A. Dunne '92, co-chair of Advocating a Better Learning Environment (ABLE), a student group which lobbies for rights for the disabled. Dunne, one of two legally blind undergraduates at Harvard, said she worked with the Physical Resources Office last year as a paid consultant.

Before the current program, the University had "absolutely nothing" in the way of provisions for blind students, Dunne said. "We just started from scratch."

But blind student Soonkyu Shin '91 criticized the priorities of the program, saying that many areas which need to be labeled in Braille have been neglected.

"If I were doing the planning, I'd do the offices," Shin said, noting that the floorplans of Harvard buildings are often confusing. "That's more urgent."

Shin said that many Harvard elevators have raised-type buttons, and that "basically you can memorize [the positions of] buildings." He also said that some buildings have not yet received elevator signs.

Dunne said that blind students often have difficulty navigating in Harvard buildings. She said she once walked around Harvard Hall listening for a teaching fellow's voice because she did not know how to find the room her section was meeting in.

Since labeling every door in Harvard's building might prove too expensive, Dunne added, a Braille booklet describing the floorplans of major buildings could be the best solution.