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Signs for the Disabled That Go Beyond the Rules/Universal Design/Accessibility

April 11, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 117

Shut your eyes. Imagine that you can never open them again. What kind of sign would direct you through a complex space like a hospital, office building or park? Could a sign be designed for people who can't see, even direct you at all? It's that kind of thinking unfortunately rare-that designers need to use when creating signage for the disabled. The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates that certain signs be designed for the visually impaired (a group that includes people with many different visual problems as well as the blind) and for people who use wheelchairs. The guidelines are simple and easy to apply. But much more can be done to help the disabled through graphics and signage. Imagining yourself in their place and researching their needs is the key. Close your eyes and put on a pair of gloves. Now you have an idea of what people blinded by diabetes feel: They lose much of their sense of touch as well as their sight. Now what kind of sign will help you? Look through a sheet of yellow acetate, and you'll discover what colors are lost as the eye's lens yellows with age. Look at a page of text in Cyrillic and you'll get a sense of what writing looks like to those who have lost the ability to read because of brain injuries. Look at an indecipherable icon and imagine that, because of brain damage or Alzheimer's disease, even the simplest symbols are incomprehensible. Now what kind of sign would help? Many designers don't consider disabled sign users until they work on a project, like a nursing home or a hospital that requires them to. But as the ADA's framers hoped designers would discover, making a sign more accessible to disabled users helps make it more useful to everyone. When the ADA went into effect, almost no research had been done to determine how disabled people use signs. While a few high-profile studies have followed, the truth is that we know very little about how even able people use signs. Most designers rely on their gut feelings, informal research and brief mentions of signage in a few books on accessible design. These aren't the best working conditions, but they're better than they were three years ago. What follows is a brief introduction to the issues of graphic design for the disabled. Some are fairly well known, and some are only beginning to be discussed. Most overlap-elderly people, young people with visual impairments and mentally impaired people can all benefit, for example, from short messages.

Design for the Visually impaired Graphic design for people who can't see is a paradox but the ADA forced sign designers and manufacturers to address this audience when it went into effect in 1992. Although ADA regulations cover only a few signs in a system-those identifying permanent spaces like stairways or room numbers-anyone trying for a unified system has to think of every sign in a building. Braille messages alone don't solve the problem because most visually impaired people can't read them. Only a fraction of the visually impaired is blind, and few of them have been blind since childhood. People with some vision don't have to read Braille, and people blinded late in life often can't or won't learn. For this reason, the ADA mandates tactile (raised) letters and certain sizes, type styles, colors, lighting and mounting positions for all signs it covers. Tactile letters are hot topic among designers because little research has been done to determine what kind of lettering is most readable by both touch and sight. Roger Whitehouse of New York City-based Whitehouse & Co. has developed his own set of letters. Many other designers depart from the ADA's specified all- caps format, citing studies showing that upper- and lowercase type is far more readable by people with any degree of sight. A further problem posed by tactile letters is that they take a long time to read, unlike Braille. Messages and words must be short or readers will lose their place and their patience. And to read tactile messages. people must be able to reach and comfortably stand next to the sign without being in the way of traffic, swinging doors and other obstacles. For those who can see, but not well, contrast and glare are critical issues. Colors with different hues but similar values may be distinguishable to those with normal sight. but will seem to run together to the visually impaired. Likewise, glare from improper lighting or a glossy sign finish can obscure a message with a great color scheme and large lettering. Other issues remain. Designers are struggling to design maps for the blind, with some success. In his notable sign system for the Lighthouse (an education center for the visually impaired) in New York City, White- house designed one of the first sets of icons for the blind. Others will surely follow. Finally, and perhaps most vexing of all is the question of how visually impaired users find signs in the first place. The ADA mandates mounting position and height under the assumption that people with visual impairments will learn to expect signs at particular places, which may well be true. But new products are demonstrating that other solutions may work better. The best-known such product is the Raynes Rail, developed by Coco Raynes Assoc. in Boston. The Raynes Rail-a handrail that combines Braille messages with audio messages, bypassing tactile letters and flat graphics won the 1994 Industrial Design Excellence Award. Other products that depart from the ADA's guidelines but meet its spirit are sure to come.

Design for the Elderly, Motor Impaired and Mentally impaired Many elderly sign users are also visually impaired. But if their impairments are simply from aging, they likely have problems with contrast, glare and type size. As the eye ages, the lens yellows. This makes certain colors, particularly blues, greens and pastels currently in vogue for institutional interiors, difficult to distinguish. And simple farsightedness as well as various eye disorders, makes small type illegible. Although such design parameters were once thought primarily useful for retirement homes, the graying of America will soon make them a good idea for most locations. Glare is important for the motor impaired too, especially people who use wheelchairs and see signs from a different angle. To be read from wheelchairs, signs cannot be obscured by furniture or architectural details. Elderly people, who are often stooped, may also need lower signs. Both populations may need to be close to or even next to, signs to be able to read them.

The area of mental impairments, although addressed by the Americans with Disabilities Act, remains largely unexplored. The number of mentally impaired adults who live at home or in group housing and who work, shop and use public transportation is far higher than most people imagine. The effects of mental impairments, which range from mental retardation to mental illness are wide-ranging. Those that relate to graphic design are the inability to read or to understand symbols. Alzheimer's disease, for example, poses a difficult problem for environmental graphic designers creating signs for nursing homes. As the disease progresses, patients lose their ability to interpret symbols and their inhibitions against touching things. Unable to read a sign, they may unintentionally vandalize it if it attracts their attention.

Coco Raynes Associates, Inc. is a multidisciplinary design firm with a broad background in environmental graphics, industrial design, universal or inclusive design, wayfinding, placemaking, branding, visual identity and exhibit design. Our services range from master planning, programming, and conceptual design to detailed design, as well as supervision of manufacturing and installation.

The firm's philosophy to work beyond minimum requirements - with regards to quality, aesthetics, and client expectations - has resulted in innovative designs and repeat contracts. Since 1969, the firm has produced large and diversified exhibits, signage and way-finding programs for public spaces, including parks, museums and visitor centers, universities, hospitals, hotels, restaurants, cities and transportation facilities.

Clients such as State Street, W Hotel, Charles de Gaulle Airport, the French Ministry of Culture and many other choose us for their projects. Our efforts have been recognized with many awards from CLIO, Boston Society of Architects, Industrial Society of America, Society for Graphic Environmental Design and many others. We also have been published in the Boston Globe, SEGD Design, Business Week, and Japan Times.

Source: EzineArticles
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