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Way finding takes accessibility to the next level

Recently, while in Montreal, some family members and I attempted to locate an ancestor's grave site as part of filling in the gaps of our family tree. As we realized we had driven into an adjoining cemetery, we could not, for the life of us, find our way back to the right cemetery and the spot we were trying to find. The cemetery lacked signs, markers and maps to guide us in our quest — not a good sign for us who consider ourselves to be skilled in way finding and map reading.

This is a common conundrum for most people and one which makes us wonder: if able-bodied and -minded hikers and drivers cannot find their way to a set location, then what does this do for the older navigator, or those who have disabilities related to sight, hearing, spacial location or learning disabilities?

It also begs the question: if you want to direct more traffic to your restaurant, bank branch, office building, museum, business or sports venue, how is poor way finding limiting your business opportunities in your organization?

Way finding may be a new word for many of our readers, but it forms a critical part of the application of universal design regardless of whether the design is for offices, retail, museums, hospitals or underground walkways. Way finding, when designed and implemented correctly, is a set of design principles concerned with making spaces effectively navigable by people of all languages, sex, mental abilities, learning disabilities, stature and anthropometrics, and culture. It should take into account that visitors and users of the space or spaces may have a visual and/or hearing impairment and disability.

Navigability means that the navigator can successfully move in the space from their present location to a destination, even if the location of the destination is not precisely known.

In way finding, there are three criteria that will determine the navigability of a space:

?    whether the navigator can discover or infer their present location;

?    whether a route to the destination can be found; and,

?    how well the navigator can accumulate way finding experience in the space.

The first criterion is the successful recovery of both location and orientation: "Where am I?" and "Which way am I facing?" A response to these questions can be verbal, such as, "I’m in Lobby C, facing Wellington St. West," or in writing by drawing an arrow on a map of the location.

The second criterion for navigability is the ability to successfully perform way finding tasks. Successful way finding occurs when the navigator can make correct navigation decisions that take them from the present location to the correct destination. Examples of such decisions are whether to continue along the present route or to backtrack, what turn to take at an intersection of paths, or whether to stop and acquire information from the environment to confirm the present route.

The third criterion for navigability is how well the navigator can accumulate way finding experience in the space. The “image ability” of a large-scale space is the ability of a navigator to form a coherent mental image map of the space. The characteristics of an urban, retail, office or other public space can be designed to affect how well people remember features in it.

In an interesting study in 1960 by Urban Planners (Lynch), residents of Boston, Los Angeles and Jersey City, N.J., were asked to draw sketch maps of their city from memory. The study found that respondents organized their city images using a set of common features, including paths, landmarks, regions, edges, barriers and intersections. The memorable features of a space is what people use to assist with way finding.

Landmarks are the memorable locations that help to orient the navigator; regions are distinct areas that place the navigator in one part of the environment; and nodes mark points where way finding decisions are made.

Since a navigator uses these features to remember his or her past route-following experiences, a well-designed space that uses these points will be readily navigable.

Here are some principles for effective way finding:

?    Create an identity at each location, different from all others.

?    Use landmarks to provide orientation cues and memorable locations.

?    Create well-structured paths.

?    Create regions of differing visual character.

?    Don't give the user too many choices in navigation.

?    Use survey views (give navigators a vista or map).

?    Provide signs at decision points to help way finding decisions.

?    Use sight lines to show what's ahead.

Way finding and signage

Way finding has three basic forms:

Landmarking,

which is the use of landmarks such as sculpture and art, discussed previously.

Architectural features

such as arches over main entrances, elevator lobbies painted in bold colours, round then sharp edges at corners which move human traffic in a specific direction.

Signage

, which are the key element in a way finding system.

Way finding signage should follow key principles to be effective.

?    Signage should assume all people are first time visitors;

?    Largest to smallest signage principle;

?    Organize the known;

?    Direction should occur at decision points;

?    Relate the signs to the environment;

?    Readability should include all levels of ability: age, cultural and language;

?    Placement of signs is critical and takes into account anthropometrics, age of reader, use of assistive devices;

?    Use of universal language, icons and colour.

To get a good handle on how way finding is critical to both the able-bodied and disabled, walk or drive around an unfamiliar area. Have a destination point in mind. Now try to navigate using signage, directions, maps, colours and points of interest (if these are in place). In fact, see if some of the principles have even been applied relative to finding your way to your point of interest.

Once you have gone through this exercise, ask yourself again: if you had a visual or auditory disability, mobility-related disabilities or mental or learning disabilities, how would you manage?

It is a great exercise to help you in your work as a health and safety and HR manager, designer, architect or building owner. The AODA may not be in full swing as of yet in Ontario, but having your customers, clients or visitors find their way safely to and around your facility will surely have an impact on your profitability and in creating happy customers and visitors who will want to come back.... and will be able to return because it has been easy to find you.

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For more on this topic, contact Olga Dosis or Jane Sleeth at AODA@OptimalPerformance.ca or 416 860-0002. Read more about this as well as other topics on their blog, OPCTODAY.blogspot.com

Jane Sleeth

Jane Sleeth is the owner and senior consultant with Optimal Performance Consultants, an ergonomic, accessibility and disability prevention firm located in Toronto, which just celebrated its 25th year. Sleeth and her team of consultants can be reached at consultants@optimalperformance.ca or 1-888-768-2106.
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