This month, we’ve highlighted Braille in recognition of National Braille Literacy Awareness month. We began with an overview of Braille terminology in the “The ABC’s of Braille.” Next, we took a look at how Braille is used today in, “Modern Usage of Braille in Today’s Society.” In this final installment, we’ll look at state and federal laws that require offering Braille documents for blind and low vision individuals.
Braille Law Requirements
Because Braille is so important to literacy within the blind and low vision community, many federal and state laws require offering accessibility options that include Braille.
Several federal statutes and their state-law equivalents mandate offering appropriate “auxiliary aids and services” to blind and low vision individuals, including Braille. In healthcare, the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Section 1557 Anti-discrimination regulations under the Affordable Care Act each require healthcare entities receiving federal funds to provide auxiliary aids and services to blind and low vision patients and their caregivers. For example, the Section 1557 regulations define “auxiliary aids and services” to include:
“[Providing] a qualified reader; information in large print, Braille, or electronically for use with a computer screen-reading program; or an audio recording of printed information.” 42 CFR 92.4.
Braille readers can expect to be offered a variety of documents in Braille, such as:
- Medical exam, test, and lab results.
- Informed Consent documents.
- Information explaining the diagnosis and/or treatment of an illness or injury.
- Prescription medication instructions, dosage, interactions, and warnings.
- Instructions on preparing for surgery or other medical procedure.
- Information about benefited eligibility, security and privacy rights, grievance and complaint processes, and other legal processes.
- Invoices and billing practice information.
The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or “IDEA,” requires K-12 schools to offer both instruction on how to read Braille and Braille educational materials, like textbooks. In fact, Congress added the Braille requirement to IDEA in 1997 to reinforce the fact that Braille education is considered an integral part of a “free appropriate and public education.”
Many state laws go even further, requiring that textbooks and supplementary materials be provided in Braille. For example, in Kentucky, all textbooks must be available in Braille at the same time as the print book. (KRS 156.476.) In Tennessee, all adopted materials used by schools must be available in Braille within 60 days after a request. (Rule 0520-1-2.15.) For a full, state-by-state list, visit the American Foundation for the Blind’s website.
Federal, State, and Local Governments
The Americans with Disabilities Act applies
Places of Public Accommodation
The Americans with Disabilities Act likewise applies to private entities that are “places of public accommodation.” To qualify as a “place of public accommodation,” a facility must affect commerce and fall within one of 12 categories:
- Places of lodging, like hotels, motels, and inns;
- Establishments serving food or drink, like restaurants and bars;
- Places of exhibition or entertainment, like cinemas, theatres, concert halls, and sports stadiums;
- Sales or rental establishments, like grocery stores, retail stores, hardware stores, and car rental companies;
- Service establishments, like banks, dry cleaners, salons, travel services, funeral parlors, gas stations, law firms, accounting firms, insurance companies, pharmacies, and healthcare providers;
- Public transportation terminals, depots, or stations (not including airports), like bus depots and train stations;
- Places of public display or collections, like museums, art galleries, and libraries;
- Places of recreation, like parks, zoos, and amusement parks;
- Places of education, like nursery schools, K-12 schools, and undergraduate and post graduate private schools.
- Social service centers, like day care centers, senior citizen centers, homeless shelters, food banks, and adoption agencies; and
- Places of exercise or recreation, like fitness centers, health spas, bowling alleys, and golf courses.
Places of public accommodation must offer auxiliary aids and services to assist blind and low vision individuals. However, places of public accommodation need not alter the fundamental nature of their products or services. So, for example, grocery stores don’t have to label all of their stock with Braille labels. Ultimately, the goal is to ensure effective communication. Braille is one of many tools in a businesses’ toolkit to accommodate blind and low vision customers. As such, a place of public accommodation may need to offer Braille in situations where other forms of assistance are ineffective. For instance, Braille is commonly used on signs (directions, restrooms, room numbers), ATM buttons, emergency instructions in hotel rooms, etc., where it is unreasonable to have some sort of audio option and/or a sighted person on standby to read aloud for the blind or low vision customer.
Braille Literacy Awareness
We hope our blog series during this Braille Literacy Awareness Month offered some food for thought on the ABC’s of Braille Literacy, the modern usage of Braille, and areas where the law requires auxiliary aids and services, including Braille. Sighted individuals have access to a world of information and documentation in printed form. As you consider how you communicate with your blind and low vision patients, citizens, constituents, and customers, it’s a great idea to take an inventory of your most commonly-used documents and forms. If you don’t already have them available in Braille, connect with us today for more information on Braille transcription and printing.
 Though the Act does provide for an exception where a student’s Individualized Education Program Team determines, after an evaluation of the student’s reading and writing skills and needs, that Braille is not appropriate for the student.