Using braille — a system of raised dots that can be read by visually impaired people — on signage is something that can make buildings more accessible. Meredith College student Mikayla Gephart, ‘23, has been advocating for the addition of braille signs on all buildings at Meredith since June 2019. The Meredith Herald recently interviewed Gephart and Assistant Director for Disability Services Carolyn Koning to hear more about this issue.
Upon arriving at Meredith, Gephart, who identifies herself as blind, noticed that all buildings had a sign on the outside of them indicating the buildings’ names, but that these signs did not include braille. Gephart said, “I started advocating for braille signage because I feel it is unfair that I do not have the same access to the signs as everyone else.” She continued, “When I realized in June, 2019 that Meredith needed more braille signage, I alerted Carolyn Koning about the issue. I didn’t want the issue to get swept under the rug. Two years later, there has been minimal progress.”
Gephart gave an example about the impact of inconsistent braille on campus: “The lack of braille signs grew particularly frustrating during my first Cornhuskin’,” she said. “I volunteered to bring some cans to one of the co-chairs for the Class of 2023, who lived in Heilman. I lived in Faircloth, where all of the room numbers were brailled. However, when I tried to find the correct room in Heilman, I was shocked to find that there were no braille signs to help me find the correct room.”
Koning said that when she arrived at Meredith, braille signage was inconsistent and that she and Karen Hager, a disability counselor in the office, have been working on a braille audit. “Last summer, we committed to getting this done,” Koning said. “Karen Hager and I went into every single building and every single outside space, and we made a spreadsheet and identified every location that still needs braille.”
When asked about student advocacy for the braille signs on Meredith’s campus, Gephart said, “I think that we need to make the administration aware that this issue is important to us as students who want to make Meredith a more inclusive environment.” Koning shared similar sentiments, and said she wanted to make students aware that they “have done a lot by increasing visibility and letting people know we want to be an inclusive community.”
“We want diversity because it makes us a more inclusive community,” Koning said. “We really do care about accessibility and welcoming all students.” Koning said that often, there are “too many projects and not enough money.”
“Ultimately, we didn't have the budget for all the locations that still need braille,” Koning explained. “We prioritized the buildings that were most frequently used by a known user of braille, and we hope to have access to funding to complete the braille project at the end of this fiscal year."
In Gephart’s opinion, there is little excuse for the lack of braille around Meredith’s campus. “[Placing braille sign] is as simple as ordering the signs and then having Facilities hang them in accessible places,” Gephart said. “I have received countless emails throughout my time here saying that they were making progress, but it has still been three years and most of our buildings still do not have signage that is accessible to the blind. If Meredith can build new buildings for some of our academic programs, there is no reason why we cannot purchase braille signs for all locations on campus.”
According to Koning, braille signs can cost more than people may think, and budgets across Meredith’s campus were cut due to the pandemic, limiting what Disability Services was able to accomplish this summer. “We want students to know we care about this,” she said. “I wish we had the resources to get ahead and be proactive, but we typically react to the specific accommodation needs of incoming students, so it often feels like we're playing catch up.”
“Putting a braille sign next to the dorm I am living in and a few other buildings is not going to cut it,” Gephart said. “It can be frustrating being the only blind student, because I am only one person. However, if we all put pressure on Meredith, maybe this can be finished by the time I graduate.”
By Rachel Van Horne, Associate Editor, and Olivia Slack, Co-Editor in Chief