What is Accessibility and the ADA?

Accessibility

Designers involved with creating experiences in the built environment must be aware of making their communications accessible to people of all ability levels.

Accessibility implies a focus on universal design—that is, design for all. This is inherent in a design discipline that is user-centric, focused on the needs of the people using the physical space. In environmental graphic design and experiential graphic design, this particularly impacts wayfinding and signage systems. Laws in most developed countries now mandate that signage in public spaces consider the needs of disabled persons, especially those who are blind, visually impaired, or physically disabled.

While universal accessibility is not mandated by law in other areas of experiential graphic design, it is important. Truly user-centered design considers the needs and abilities of all people who will be engaged in the experience, not just those in a certain subgroup. 

ADA

In the United States, accessible for wayfinding and interior signage is guided by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), enacted by the United States Congress in 1990, is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disabilities. Also note the Standards for Accessible Design (SAD) as well as state and local accessibility codes. These guidelines focus on sign legibility (through typography size, height, weight, line spacing, and contrast), sign location, use of symbols and Braille, and other factors. The Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG), were made effective in 1992 and updated substantially in 2011 with the Standards for Accessible Design (SAD). The SAD guide the construction and alteration of facilities covered by the ADA, including places of public accommodation, commercial facilities, and state and local government facilities.

The ADA seeks to ensure that these public buildings are accessible to people of all ability levels, including those who are blind, visually impaired, or physically disabled. For environmental and experiential graphic designers, the SAD guidelines impact the development of wayfinding and signage systems in these public spaces—focusing heavily on sign legibility (through typography size, height, weight, and line spacing, and color contrast), sign location, use of symbols and Braille, and other factors.

SEGD has provided leadership to the design community around compliance since before passage of the legislation in 1990. For more than three decades, SEGD has provided courses, workshops, white papers, and other educational materials focused on the subject. Members of the SEGD community are actively involved in ensuring that these codes at the federal, state, and local levels consider the needs of users and follow design best practices. In 2012, SEGD released the 2012 ADA White Paper Update to help the design community meet the spirit and intent of the new SAD guidelines.

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