When using the product Airport it is the navigational system and strategy in place that enables the user to successfully journey from the booking process through check-in, security and departure to the actual boarding. Failing to provide a logical and clear combination of signage and information design will result in a negative user experience, errors during the travel process and in the case of an emergency possibly injury.
Although I witnessed the assisting services at ‘FRA’ to be running very smoothly and being executed very thoroughly by their roughly 480 employees, the fundamental thought behind inclusive design and what the ’EU Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities’ defines as ‘Universal Design’, does not seem to be an objective. This is to enable as many users as possible, regardless of their mental or physical capacity to use and access an environment independently and without outside help and adaptive equipment where possible.
Reading this statement many might reply that numerous efforts of making buildings and environments more accessible have been made, as my research on airport environments shows however, those considerations were mainly for people with mobility impairments. Whilst this might be the largest group of users with disabilities, and the one most noticeable, efforts for those with visual impairments should also make their way into designers and planners general awareness and thought processes.
I am not saying that including those with mobility impairments should be less important – the main thought behind writing this dissertation is to establish the same level of inclusion for as many as possible regardless of their mental, physical or cognitive capabilities – showing how even the simplest consideration for the elderly user with their typical visual disability is being disregarded at present.
Developments in technology have moved toward a more inclusive digital environment already, government and state institution websites are by law required to optimise their contents for people with visual disabilities and make them accessible for assistive devices such as screen readers and across multiple browser platforms. ‘CGN’ airport offers a ‘barrier-free’ section on their website that is broken down to the most important visual elements and technically optimised for accessibility. However it does not include information on way finding around the airport and only very limited information on the care services.
Not only could the Internet be used to supply better information and prepare users for how to navigate the airport, but the future of handheld and mobile devices creates a whole set of new opportunities for navigational instruments.
IT company ‘Amadeus’ published a report on ‘Navigating the Airport of Tomorrow’ and suggests the use of ‘Near Field Communication (NFC)’ technology in future handsets to be used for location based access to information and promotions.[1.]
It further seems that alternative navigation strategies such as for example floor navigation or tactile elements could provide successful solutions for creating universally accessible way finding solutions, but are not being explored or considered in airport environments. During my interview at FRA I learned that there used to be an audio guide in place to assist people with visual disabilities, but it was disregarded after its development was getting “too complicated”.
Whatever future developments or alternative navigational strategies could add to the user experience, firstly the basic considerations such as sufficient contrast, lighting and a logical structure of way showing must be incorporated. As my research on airport navigation with regard to the elderly and visually impaired user shows – this is not currently the case. It is the designers and planners mind-set that needs to be informed of and realise the importance of inclusive design considerations.
This would lead to a more usable and accessible society where everyone understands inclusive design as a basic consideration, and where legislation such as prepared in the EU ‘Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities’ and incorporated in the ‘BGG’ will find their way into common national law.