by Ken Stewart
Bravo to ACB president Kim Charlson for her exemplary advocacy work described in her “President's Message” in the August E-Forum!
I was particularly pleased to learn about her efforts to assist hotels to include design features of particular value to visually impaired and blind guests, features such as non-visually interactive guest room thermostats, and easy-to-use electronic door keys. Among the other hotel design features on my "to get" list are elevator control panels and bathroom grab bars. In both hotels and other multi-floor public buildings, I am often annoyed to find an elevator with two control panels, one on each side of the door, both positioned low for wheelchair users. I am, of course, pleased there is a control panel accessible to occupants with limited reach. But why both panels? One of those panels should be at the conventional height so that those of us who must look very closely or position a hand beneath the buttons to feel their braille or tactile labeling can utilize them easily. Not only do hotel bathrooms need grab bars, but those grab bars should be very conspicuous, accomplished by high visual contrast — a dark bar against the white bathtub wall, or at least polished metal with a dark base, never white on white please!
Likewise, wall switch plates, and even wall electric outlets, would benefit from high visual contrast. Incidentally, I have learned by way of my advocacy work that the general public and even some architects and designers can misunderstand what visual contrast is when we use the term “color contrast” rather than “visual contrast.”
The U.S. Access Board offers the following clarification: “visual contrast” is a light versus dark comparison between two surfaces, an object and its immediate surroundings, or an object and its perceived background. It is neither an expression of, nor achieved by, color differences. Visual contrast can be quantified with the use of a luminance meter that measures the amount of light reflected by each of the subjects, where zero is total darkness and 100 is theoretical complete light reflection.
I sometimes read that this rating, commonly referenced as an "LRV," Light Reflectance Value, is ideal at a 70 percent level. It is not! That percentage has become the standard for the minimally acceptable level. Eighty percent is even better. The closer to black and white the better!