Problems of People with Visual Impairment Who Wayfinding

Published: 2021-09-14 21:00:09
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In environments with a clear and simple structure, the physical space in itself can provide a sufficient amount of information to orientate around in the surroundings.
Additional elements such as signage, arrows, maps, screens with information, and/or other visible and/or audible elements occur. This may be divided into visual, static information and visual, dynamic information.Communication within wayfinding is based on the human senses/abilities: seeing, touching, listening, talking and a combination of some or all of the above. Means of communication used to present information is:

Visual information
Tactile information
Audible information
Interactive information

Several aspects has to be taken into consideration when it comes to certain user groups. This paper will focus on people with visual impairments (Arkitektoniske virkemidler for orientering og veifinning, 2015).
On wayfinding
Wayfinding, conceptualised in terms of spatial problem solving, subsumes decision making, decision executing and information processing, as well as describing a person’s cognitive and behavioural ability to reach spatial destinations.
To understand people’s behaviour, the understanding of the image they form about physical and non-physical environment is essential.
People in general have poor sense of their surrounding environment. They do not actually remember an area or find their way around it completely by memory, but they are rather dependent on certain objects they remember and therefore work around them. Consequently, the wayfinding process is a series of decisions taken in order to make it to the final destination/decision (Passini, 1984, p.153 – 164).
Wayfinding design principles
Rigorous research of the site in which the wayfinding aids shall be placed, is essential to constitute clear, concise and consistent signage. Customarily there are four functional groups of signage; information signs, direction signs, identification (or location) signs and safety- and mandatory signs (Barker and Fraser, 2000, p. 21 – 22).

There are some conventions that should be followed
Colour coding

Often colour coding is utilised in both signage and maps as a part of a wayfinding system. Colour coding have been shown to improve attention, learner motivation, and memory. Even if highly trained viewers can recognise about 50 different colour codes, this is not the reality for the average viewer. The most effective number of colours for colour coding, would be four to six different colours (Petterson, 2011, p. 131). And the result is even far less for the about 4.5% (Colour Blind Awareness, n.d.) of UK population that suffers from Colour vision deficiency.
It is recommendations to consider the ratio between the stroke height and cap-height, especially when the letters get excessively bold, “legibility distance”, and according to Arthur and Passini the best letters for signage purposes have a ratio between x-height and cap-height of at least 3:4. Eric Spiekerman does not agree in this matter (Passini, 1984, p.153 – 164). Also, recent research have indicated that the x-height might not have that great of an importance when it comes to legibility. Other aspects as x-height matters when it comes to reading distance and a typeface with a greater x-height will be more economical space wise, than a typeface with low x-height and therefore also a demand of using a greater point size (when it comes to wayfinding we always operate in physical measurements like mm, instead of point size, but using a typeface with small x-height will require a larger type size and therefore take up more space).
Regarding the matter of using lowercase or UPPER-CASE in signage, arguments in both favours can be presented. One argument in favour of using upper- and lowercase is that we determine the shape of the word, rather than reading each letter. The combination between upper- and lowercase is more familiar and makes distinctive shapes, comparatively to a rectangular shape, that looks immoderately similar in every word, as with upper-case letters.
When it comes to signs, our reading habits are different from when we are reading books or newspapers. People scan signs, looking for relevant information, rather than reading them. Arthur and Passini addresses several of issues with lowercase letters, and indicate that the similarity of the different letters in lowercase, make them more difficult to read compared to uppercase letters. They convey that most likely research, if it were actually done, would have shown that in hospitals, especially with a majority of elderly patients, messages in all-caps would have been preferred (Passini, 1992, p. 166). This can be questioned as we read better what we are used to and common habit would be to read lower case letters. Lower case letters also have more different shapes than upper case letters and should therefore be easier to differentiate. Both The wayfinding handbook and Sign design guide: a guide to inclusive signage contradicts the assertion of Arthur and Passini. It states clearly that legibility is improved by usage of lower-case letters in combination with upper-case letters, as the combination produces more distinctive word shapes. The indicated is especially important in signage (Gibson, 2009, p. 79; Barker and Fraser, 2000, p. 35). However traditional, customary and specific words required by legislation as EXIT or TAXI should be written in all upper-case letters (Barker and Fraser, 2000, p. 35).
Common practice in signage is to use letter size to differentiate levels according to importance in hierarchical order.
The size of the letters may vary in signage. It might be used to show
the importance of different destinations in the sign in hierarchical order. According to Arthur and Passini, weights ought to be preferred as an aid to differentiate in order of importance (Passini, 1992, p. 166).
Pictographic information
Designing for visual impairments
In addition to the aids people with normal vision use for finding their way, visually impaired will also pay attention to audible feedback from floor finishes, including changes in floor constructions that gives different perceptible resonance or feeling. They will be sensitive to tactile underfoot surfaces. Colour contrasts at the junction of walls, floors, furnitures and other critical surfaces are in addition to this an aspect that will assist visually impaired, that are not entirely without a vision, to recognise their whereabouts. Even though signs should be located at an adequate height to avoid obstruction, placing signs in the middle of a route based on the fact that they will be more visible can cause difficulties for people with visual impairments. A floor mounted sign can undeniably be perilous and a suspended sign placed in the middle of the route does not take the change of background into consideration, and therefore the contrast between the sign and the background will be unpredictable (Barker and Fraser, 2000, p. 24, 27).
Where applicable embossed and braille, and/or audible elements should be incorporated in the signage (Barker and Fraser, 2000, p. 28).


Clarity, consistency, conciseness and unambiguous language is crucial in sign design. Inclusiveness requires usage of uncomplicated and palpable language. Redundant information might be confusing, easily forgotten and compromise the contingency to read the sign in passing. Nevertheless, brevity should never compromise meaning. When it comes to floor plans and directories they can carry more information, as people are meant to stop and study them closer.
Abbreviations can be confusing for people with visual impairments, as the human brain often recognise the shape of the word, rather than reading it letter by letter. Also, numbers can often be more unambiguous to the visually impaired than letters. Another benefit from using numbers when possible in signage is that they can be set in a more generous size than text, yet occupy less space (Barker and Fraser, 2000, p. 28).
Human perception/cognition
The Oxford dictionary defines the mass noun cognition as “The mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses.”, followed by the count noun as “A perception, sensation, idea, or intuition resulting from the process of cognition.” while as the noun perception is described as “The ability to see, hear, or become aware of something through the senses.” (Oxford Dictionaries | English, 2018).
Perception is a subjective matter. Individuals differ in how they perceive any given stimulus. A range of factors plays a role in how we perceive different matters, like: age and gender in addition to cultural, political or religious background and other social matters (Black, A. et al., 2017, s. 426).
Every time a design is carried out, it will interact with a user to some extent, even concerning the matter of the user being a fairly passive reader, expectations are made towards that the reader have some degree of prior knowledge. User testing will help us find a common ground or an average of what people perceive when it comes to the artefact at hand, and even though everyone has different experiences, some common conventions and similarities regarding what the audience has been exposed to exist.
The eye
Comprehension of information graphics is partially determined by the way the eye functions. This can briefly be described as: the light hits an object and reflects the light back to the eye, and you see a combination of the colours the object does not absorb via activation of photosensitive cells in the retina (which is actually part of the brain), you perceive an existence, and the electrical signal is passed on, and then processed by the brain, before you become aware of what you are actually looking at.
The eye contains photoreceptors, which can be divided into rods and cones. The rods are more light sensitive than the cones, but does not perceive colours. The cones take care of the colour vision.
We have a fairly narrow focus area (about 2°), but we experience an illusion that we do not, because of constant eye movements. The eye fixates two to three times per second and create an image of our surroundings.
Saccadic movements and fixations are unconscious, but not random. As part of the evolution we have been “programmed” to efficiently identify predators, food and receptiveness of the opposite sex, by first noticing movement, strong colours and objects with shapes out of the ordinary, even if they are out of focus (Cairo, 2013, p. 97 – 104).
Visual impairments
The most classic eye diseases associated with impaired vision are; cataracts, age-related macular degeneration, retinitis pigmentosa, albinism, glaucoma, diabetes retinopathy and retinal detachment. In addition, we have natural impairment of vision due to age and of course colour vision deficiency (CVD). In addition to traditional CVD, will also individuals with AMD and glaucoma have weakened colour vision under poor light conditions. With AMD the colour vision will also be affected under high light conditions (Norges Blindeforbund, 2009).
Colour vision deficiency
CVD affects about 1 in 12 men (about 8% of the population) and 1 in 200 women in the world. CVD is usually a genetic condition. The condition is more common in men than in women due to the fact that the defect lies in the X chromosome. [explanation of this here]
(Colour Blind Awareness, n.d.)
Trichromacy = normal colour vision
Anomalous Thrichromacy is a colour vision impairment, not a complete loss of colour vision. The three types of Anomalous Thricromacy is Deuteranopia, Protanopia and Tritanopia
This type of colour blindness is characterised by a loss of green vision and distortion of vision in the red-yellow-green part of the spectrum.
This type of colour blindness is characterised by a tendency to confuse reds and greens and by a loss of sensitivity to red light.
This type of colour blindness is characterised by a lowered sensitivity to blue light resulting in an inability to distinguish blue and yellow.


Acquired colour vision defects

Gestalt principles

The Gestalt psychologists saw that there was a problem in how the mosaic of retinal stimulation gives rise to perception of objects. They saw the human brain’s tendency to see and organise objects into groups/objects. And this is what make humans see simplified objects as complete. This explains the phenomenon where we see objects in clouds or the man in the moon. The human brain turns patterns into objects. What is perceived is determined not merely by the stimulus patterns, but the best interpretation of the available data, influenced on former experience and other senses. R. L. Gregory describes the perceived object as “ … a hypothesis, suggested and tested by sensory data” (Gregory, 1966, p. 8 – 12).

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