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February 2003

Signify the Accessible Entrance

Beth Ziebarth at her deskMy name is Beth Ziebarth, and I coordinate the Accessibility Program for the Smithsonian Institution. My office is in the Arts and Industries Building, one of 10 Smithsonian buildings on the Washington Mall.

My office has received complaints from visitors with mobility limitations about the lack of signage directing them to accessible museum entrances. I plan to do a systematic survey, but today on my way to meet friends for lunch in the Castle's dining room, I am going to pay attention to what signage is in place and what changes, if any, are needed.

For someone like myself who uses a wheelchair, finding the accessible entrance to a building can be like going on a treasure hunt; good signage ensures a more pleasurable adventure. With just a few photos, I think you'll get the picture and be ready to check on directional signage at your institution.

Outdoor accessible entrance sign partially hidden by ivy. The first sign I come to has been located in a small fenced-in garden where ivy is growing abundantly. The name Smithsonian Information Center caught my eye, but I can barely make out the international symbol for accessibility, and the arrow pointing in the direction of the Center is covered by ivy. The sign needs to be higher. That's a better solution than expecting maintenance staff to keep the ivy pruned. Considering the sign itself, there is good color contrast between text and background, and text size and choice of a sans-serif font make it easy to read. And as this example demonstrates, light type reversed out of a dark field is often desirable in outdoor settings to offset glare. The international symbol for accessibility catches my eye and there's an arrow telling me which direction to continue.

Beth reading information on free-standing kiosk. Next I come to a kiosk in front of the Castle-you can see a bit of the Washington Mall in the background. The kiosk is four-sided and stands about eight feet tall. On two sides, an arrow points in the direction of the Castle's accessible entrance. This means that no matter the approach, visitors who use wheelchairs or other mobility aids are likely to see the information they need. Also, by making directional and informational signage the same color and consistently using the international symbol for accessibility, visitors start looking for similar signage.

Beth and two friends standing in front of Castle ramp. My friends have met me at the Castle's accessible entrance. The new ramp from sidewalk to door blends in well with this historic building.


Beth pushing button to open door. Finally, the entrance door with a button I can use to open the power-assisted doors. Good, I'm hungry.

Read Others' Experiences for more ideas and please Share Your Own.




Accessible Entrance Signage Tips
  • Determine which building entrances are accessible whether used by visitors, staff, or volunteers.
  • Starting at public transportation stops, visitor and employee accessible parking, and drop off areas, determine the accessible route to each accessible entrance.
  • Make a map of these accessible routes. Mark places where information is needed, as in a change of direction.
  • Based on your notes, make temporary signs and test them with someone unfamiliar with the routes. Ask these questions: Are signs in the best locations? Are they easy to see and easy to read? Is the information correct and helpful? Do they follow the guidelines for accessibility?
  • Make the necessary changes and test again. You are now ready for permanent signs.



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