Good wayfinding allows a person who is blind or has low vision to “benefit from a well-designed environment that presents a predictable set of physical circumstances,” but it can also benefit all occupants of a building, including those with mobility or activity limitations.
When we consider wayfinding, we generally think about people entering a building and moving to key features and facilities without putting too much thought to how they would find their way out during an emergency.
There are a number of key wayfinding principles to take into account, and notably, the paths should be simple in design and non-confusing for occupants, particularly for those who may experience stress or those with reduced mental or cognitive abilities.
Additional to these accepted principles, exit doorways can also be provided in a contrasting colour scheme which not only achieves a contrast in the colours around the doorway, but also a contrast in the luminance reflective values of abutting surfaces (or the way light behaves off each surface). This will help exit doors to stand out from their background and will assist those people with low vision, who may miss other visual cues such as an exit sign over the doorway, to identify an exit door. This approach has also been known to assist those occupants with a cognitive impairment.
When planning exit routes, it has been known for some time that smoke development within a fire compartment, such as a corridor, will eventually cause any exit sign installed above an exit door to be non-visible as the smoke layer builds ups.
So what else can be done to help identify the exit door? Well, providing a contrasting coloured door, in a recognised colour scheme, supplemented with the use of photo-luminescent paint or wayfinding markings will further aid identification of the safe exit route (or accessible means of egress). Extending this approach throughout exit routes, such as on stair edges, stair handrails and along the bottom of walls, will further benefit the ease of identification of the exit route path.
In the paper Wayfinding Design: Hidden Barriers to Universal Access, Patricia Salmi, Ph.D has stated that additional to mandated overhead exit signage there should be “exiting signage placed on the wall low enough so that a person in a wheelchair can reach it, and it should contain raised images, text, and Braille that is incorporated into the signage in a consistent manner.”
The Australian National Construction Code (NCC) already requires such signage below any required exit sign (under Volume 1, Clause D3.6), but nowhere else in the building, nor does it require any image or graphical representation on this signage.
The requirements for graphical images (or pictograms) to be used in raised signage and tactile mapping are now detailed within the Draft Australian Standard DR AS 1428.4.2:2015 Design for access and mobility – Wayfinding, recently released for public comment. There are 72 pictograms presented for use, including various directional arrows (with Braille equivalents); baby change facilities; toilets and showers; information and reception counters; lifts; stairs; ramps; travellators; escalators; telephones; hearing augmentation systems; first aid points; pedestrian crossings; public transportation; ticketing points; and baggage collection/drop off areas.
But in terms of identifying exit routes, the approach in Australia and many parts of the world only includes the use of the internationally accepted ‘Running Man’ exit sign. These requirements are prescribed in the NCC and the Australian Standard AS 2293 series.
There is a growing awareness that these minimum standards fail to consider all occupants and there are now options available to provide for a safer and more intuitive environment. Best practice concepts in identifying components of evacuation routes include consideration of international building codes and standards, which might consider providing a suitable accessible exit sign pictogram. For example, in the International Building Code, the International Symbol of Access is used to identify refuge areas.
Last year an international campaign for accessible exit signs commenced which adopts an enhanced version of the ‘Running Man’ design with a symbol of accessibility. This has been referred to as the ‘Accessible Means of Egress Icon,’ part of The Accessible Exit Sign Project.
Salmi has also stated that colour in signage can also be used as a reinforcing cue related to the environment, and the Accessible Means of Egress Icon adopts a consistent approach in the colour of accessible exit signs and accessible wayfinding directional signs, which use a safety green colour. This approach is in line with ISO 7010:2011 Graphical symbols – Safety colours and safety signs and the ISO International Language of Graphical Symbols Booklet.
The addition of the proposed accessible exit signs outlined above could further enhance the wayfinding strategies within the draft 1428.4.2 to include the accessible means of egress (i.e. for those using a mobility aid or those with difficulty negotiating stairs). When used in conjunction with the existing ‘Running Man’ style exit sign, it could also help to distinguish a non-accessible route that has no provisions for egress for people with mobility restrictions.
Accessible exit paths in evacuation routes could then be clearly identified not only in the physical pathway but on evacuation diagrams or maps displayed around the building. If a uniform design is accepted for specification for building occupants and applied in a consistent manner, then all building occupants and fire fighters would be able to easily recognise an appropriate safe egress route and follow the directional information to a safe place outside the building.