Or so I suspect.

The Ontario Realty Corp., which, despite its grand name, manages only provincial-government buildings, sent out a questionnaire recently about accessible signage in buildings. Apparently they’re trying to research some kind of standard for same.

My suspicions were immediately raised by the fact that the whole process was being done in secret. It seems obvious to me that only incumbent organizations like the CNIB were being canvassed. CNIB wouldn’t be the only one, of course, but they would be the organization viewed with the most credibility on issues of blindness – about which they have exactly none when it comes to accessibility of signage. The entire “Ckear Print” fiasco barely scratches the surface of it; I have an entire folder of documentation on how the CNIB and GO Transit bungled GO’s new signage standard, for example.

So here’s what I think is going to happen: These incumbent organizations will pretend there isn’t enough research on the topic, ignore the findings of whatever research they did manage to dig up, and issue counterfactual and baseless advice for this upcoming “standard.” By coïncidence, the advice will be to use whatever fonts come free with Windows NT – and only fonts that appear high up in an alphabetized Font menu. That means Arial.

There’ll be lots of Braille, too, despite the fact that Braille-and-raised-letter wall signage is completely useless to blind and low-vision people. (Blind people don’t know the sign exists; low-vision people can barely spot the smudge on the wall. Braille-and-raised wall signage exists to make sighted people, who can walk right over to it and rub their fingers across it, feel good about doing something for blind people.)

I mailed Ontario Realty to air my fears, and have of course been ignored. We’ll see how long that lasts.

By the way, they’ve contracted with Hanson and Jung Architects Inc. for this project. Let’s hope at least they know how to read the research.

Here, for your own research, is an excerpted version of the questionnaire. What would your responses be?

  1. Think of a situation where you went into a large public building and had difficulty finding your way to a particular service, location or person.

    1. What contributed most to the problems you experienced?

    2. What did you do when you first entered the building?

    3. What role did signage contribute to the problems you experienced?

    4. Do you recall seeing any signs meant to direct you to where you wanted to go?

      1. If yes, were they helpful?

      2. If no, what might have been done to improve the situation?

    5. Do you recall using any other features of the building to help you find the place/person you were looking for? (Maps, landmarks, colours, etc.)

  2. Think of a situation where you went into a public building and were successful finding a particular location or person easily and quickly.

    1. What contributed most to finding the person/place easily and quickly?

    2. What role did signage play?

    3. Do you recall what part(s) of the signage was good (location, readability, lighting, colour, etc.)?

    4. Did any other features of the building or amenities help?

  3. If you were designing a signage/wayfinding system for a public building, what is the one thing you think would be most important to incorporate?

  4. If you were designing a signage/way finding system for a public building, what is the one thing you think you would avoid doing?

  5. Are there any documents or reports that you feel would aid in the understanding and creation of signage accessibility standards relative to your field of expertise? [How exactly is a blind person, the presumed respondent of nearly all the other questions, expected to answer this one?]

  6. Typically, what are the major barriers relating to signage and wayfinding that you encounter in public buildings?

  7. Can you recall an instance where the placement of a particular sign affected or prevented you from being able to read or understand its content?

  8. Do you believe signs that have graphic symbols are more useful than signs with text only?

  9. Do you prefer a sign with text or its equivalency in graphic symbol?

  10. Do you think it preferable to have both text and graphic symbol on a sign?

  11. Do you expect to find signs with tactile lettering in public buildings?

    • If yes, on what types of signs would you expect to find tactile lettering?

  12. Do you expect to find signs with Braille in public buildings?

    • If yes, do you have a preference for Grade 1 or Grade 2 Braille?

    • If yes, on what types of signs would you expect to find Braille?

  13. Where are the most common places in a building where you would expect to find a sign with tactile lettering or Braille?

  14. If you do not find such signs at these locations, would you search elsewhere or assume the signage does not exist?

  15. Rate [on a Likert scale the] importance of having tactile lettering and Braille on the following signs in your journey through a public building from the time you enter to the time you leave.

    1. Exterior building identification sign

    2. Main lobby directory sign

    3. Floor directory sign

    4. Amenity signs (washrooms, phones, elevators, stairs)

    5. Signs to a department

    6. Room signs

    7. Signs at service counters

    8. Signs at self-service counters

    9. General message signs

  16. In what way(s) do you think colour helps to make signage systems clear and easy to read?

  17. In what way(s) do you think colour prevents or distracts signage systems from being clear and easy to read?

  18. Have you ever used a tactile map to find your way through a building? If so, please tell us where and if it was helpful in assisting you to reach your destination.

  19. Are there other technologies or methods you are aware of or have personal experience with that you found particularly useful in a signage system?

  20. Please use this space to provide any general comments you have on how signs should be designed or installed.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2009.02.25 16:20. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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