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Special Needs Department Librarian Chris Eaton with a prototype tactile restroom model at the Main Library.
Jax Daily Record Friday, Jan. 29, 201612:00 PM EST

Library uses 3-D models of restrooms to help visually impaired patrons

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by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

For most people, using an unfamiliar public restroom is no big deal.

A quick glance locates the fixtures and where to wash and dry their hands.

For those who are blind or visually impaired, it’s not that easy.

More than 50 students from Clay, Duval and St. Johns counties who participated in the North Florida Regional Braille Challenge on Thursday at the Main Library had some high-tech help navigating the restrooms in the conference center.

Inspired by input from visually impaired guests who attended the Main Library’s 10th anniversary celebration in November, the team in the E-Library Department designed tactile models of the men’s and women’s restrooms and fabricated them on a 3-D printer.

The models were mounted near the doors to the restrooms, allowing guests to familiarize themselves with the floor plan by touch.

While it’s a routine part of the library’s customer service to help people find what they are looking for among the shelves, the restroom is a completely different situation, said Special Needs Librarian Chris Eaton.

The 3-D blueprint could be the answer.

“It makes it easy to understand where the fixtures are — even where the flush lever is located,” he said.

If the models are as useful as the designers hope, they could be fabricated for restrooms in other public buildings, such as City Hall and the Duval County Courthouse.

“The public library is about accessibility, information and innovation,” Eaton said.

This is the second consecutive year the Main Library hosted the braille event. During the all-day challenge, students competed in braille speed and accuracy, reading comprehension, proofreading and reading tactile charts and graphs.

Those who score among the top 60 participants nationally will be invited to the Braille Institute in Los Angeles in June for a final competition

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