Existing signage and architecture don’t meet all needs
The ADA requires the placement of braille architectural signs in certain facilities. However, it is often difficult for a person with visual impairments to locate the signs so that they can be useful. Although helpful, braille accessibility serves a small portion of the visually impaired population because many lose their vision as they age and haven’t learned the difficult skill of reading braille. Also signs for marketing purposes such as logos or promotional signage are not required to be in braille.
Tactile maps use large print, tactile and braille features etched in metal to describe a geographic area. The usefulness of tactile maps is limited because they are expansive and are typically installed in a permanent location, requiring people with visual impairments to locate them. These maps can be difficult to understand if the user is not familiar with them, and exist in fixed locations. That means the user has to actually know where they are and then memorize them before they can continue on their way.
Infrared audio signs
Signs that send short audio signals triggered by infrared light beams can be useful. However, they are expensive to deploy and require a special receiver. Also, they don’t provide enough information to help people with visual impairments master their surroundings.
It’s not just signage and technology that have been failing people with visual impairments. Few, if any, facilities are prepared to accommodate them sufficiently. Having compiled with ADA requirements, facilities typically only go so far as allowing guide dogs and giving free admission to assisting companions. Imagine the difference it would make if an individual with a visual impairment was able to find the bathroom in a busy café, which they had not visited before, without asking for directions to the nearest braille sign (best case), but was already aware of its location thanks to the AWARE app and installation of iBeacons.