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How one Torquay manufacturer is helping the vision impaired

16/06/2020

Nominations are now open for the nine categories in the 18th annual Regional Achievement and Community Awards (RACA). Want the inside scoop on what it takes to win? We’re here to help! Get some tips from the 2019 Regional Development Victoria Business Achievement Award recipient, Torquay’s very own Travis Ashford.

Travis AshfordTravis Ashford, 45, is the brains behind Braille Sign Supplies, a venture he started in his tiny Jan Juc garage 17 years ago.

Over the years, his enterprise has morphed into one of the largest manufacturers of Braille signage in Australia and in 2019, it took out the Regional Development Victoria Business Achievement Award.

“Winning last year was an incredible shock,” Travis says, his face breaking into a smile. “I was thrilled to have even been selected as a finalist, so to win such an important category was really overwhelming.”

As to why he got the gong, he puts it down to “our industry innovation, as well as the expansion we’ve experienced on the back of that innovation”.

That expansion is evidenced in his incredibly broad client base, including Victoria’s Parliament House, Jan Juc Life Saving Club, cruise liners, theatres, sports stadium, schools, universities, public transport networks, hospitals, hotels, airports and councils. Architects and designers also commission.

The Torquay-based business has achieved double digit growth in the past decade, yet on the back of the awards win, it has expanded even further. Staff levels have ratcheted up by 20% since the award, going from seven to nine full-timers.

While sales are predominantly national due to different Braille regulations across the globe, orders are also flowing in for generic Braille signs from Finland, the United States, Germany, New Zealand and Fiji.

Starting Out

Braille books and notesSome things happen in life completely by chance. Like a change in career. Although Travis cut his teeth as a sign writer, a random opportunity arose that saw him change direction mid-stream. “I began receiving occasional orders for Braille signs due to building code changes, and found difficulties sourcing them. Most signs were from overseas, and weren’t compliant with Australian standards. And those made locally were expensive with long lead times.”

Non compliance, he recognised, was not only a business problem, but it also posed a very real danger to the vision impaired. It was imperative, he realised, that Braille signs were compliant with Australian standards (in terms of the height and size of raised text, as well as their location in public spaces) so the blind or vision impaired end-user could safely and adequately read the sign.

Noting a gap in the market, Travis began researching how to make compliant braille signs himself and presto, his new business was born.

Braillle Sign Supplies office

The road ahead

This isn’t the time to take the foot off the pedal in Travis’s eyes: he’s continuing to evolve in his line of work. “When I started out, Braille signs were mostly generic blue and white and I’m enjoying pushing the boundaries for design, durability and functionality.”

On that point, his company has just launched a patented production method for metal signs called BrailleFace.

“Instead of the traditional method of engraving holes and inserting beads into the holes to form the raised braille beads and text, our method produces a sign from a single piece of metal,” says Travis. “As the sign is continuous-faced, there are no braille beads to come loose from vandalism or fall out over time, therefore the sign is more durable, and it’s also non-combustible.”

That’s a boon for high-volume user areas – think public transport and the health sector – as no engraved parts means no crevices for bacteria to harbour, and the sleeker design is easier and quicker to clean. “In the midst of a global pandemic, this design is even more relevant,” he says.

Travis Ashford

Taking out the award last year

The award has been nothing less than a game changer, according to Travis.

“It’s not just a feather in our cap to share on social media, it actually changed the dynamic of how we worked,” he explains. “Entering last year for the first time forced us to stop and assess all elements of our business, instead of just powering on with our heads down, and it really allowed us to take stock of where we were and where we wanted to be. It brought our team together with the feeling of achievement and pride. We’d just won the Regional Business of the Year award at the Geelong Business Excellence Awards, so to follow that up with a win at the Regional Development Victoria awards was really satisfying.”

The main positive from winning, Travis adds, was the way to company’s profile was raised locally. “We’re continuing to always strive for the best quality signs delivered fast, and that hasn’t changed, but we do feel it has given our small local manufacturing business enhanced credibility.”

Working with the vision-impaired community

Female toilet sign with brailleYou could say Travis is well connected. He’s on the Blind Citizens Australia (BCA) committee, which recently launched messaging about how the community can assist blind or vision impaired people adhere to social distancing requirements.

He has also consulted for Changing Places – a campaign calling for fully accessible public changing areas for those with physical disabilities, and was invited to work with and support changes made by disability consultant, Egress Group to improve building codes for emergencies in Australia. Currently, exits allow emergency access for able-bodied people, but significant challenges remain for those in wheelchairs.

At a local level, for eight years, in conjunction with Vision Australia, Travis has hosted sessions in Jan Juc and Torquay primary schools and kindergartens (recent events were held at Jan Juc Pre School and St Therese Primary School) to raise awareness with students about blindness and vision impairment.

Vision Australia provided Travis with Feelix Library packs for the kids to pass around and discuss (Feelix Library in Melbourne’s State Library provides a Braille service). The Braille alphabet and signing is a focus. “We’ve found the kids to be really interested in Braille and the teachers also love having us come in,” he says.

Travis has also worked on a sensory garden project at Jan Juc Bob Pettit Reserve, incorporating Braille signage to engage people of all ages.

Bob Pettit Reserve Wattle Grove braille sign

Application Tips

Travis shares his top four tips on awards entries

  • Give yourself enough time. There never feels like you have any down time when you run your own business, but my tip would be to try to prepare early.
  • Be honest. If there’s an area you’ve found challenging, don’t overlook it. Everyone in business struggles and sometimes addressing those challenges and showing resilience can paint your business in a positive, realistic light.
  • Don’t underestimate yourself or sell yourself short. You deserve a spot at the table, regardless of the size of your business.
  • Just give it your best shot. Even if you don’t win, it’s a great night out and a chance to network with like-minded regional business owners in a positive and supportive environment. It also opened our eyes to the amount of people doing amazing work regionally.

Read up on the awards.

Regional Development Victoria is a proud supporter of the Regional Achievement and Community Awards. If you’re feeling inspired, nominate today. Or nominate a deserving member of your community. Entry is free so what are you waiting for? Nominations close 31 July.



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