Whereas mobility is getting from one destination to another, wayfinding uses cognitive and perceptual information to reach a destination. Wayfinding also involves orientation, the process by which people impacted by blindness determine where they are in a space at any given moment.

Wayfinding design involves organizing the built environment to provide useful information for wayfinding. Environments that include universal design principles in wayfinding take into account all the human senses (not just sight) and all modes of travel (not just walking) in both the design and maintenance of an indoor or outdoor space.

People who cannot rely entirely upon sight for wayfinding often use a combination of other strategies:

  • They may make a memory map of important parts of a building (e.g., “I need to turn left as soon as I enter the building to get to the elevators”).
  • They may rely on the physical feel of changes on the walking surface detectable by foot or with a long white cane. For example, they may notice that a walkway changes from concrete pavement to a metal grate just before a building entrance, or that a textured tile lobby changes to carpet at the beginning of a hallway.
  • They may find accessible pedestrian signals (APSs) useful when crossing a road.
  • They may use contrast in colour and brightness as cues in their surroundings.
  • They may get directions and a description of the space layout from tactile signs and maps.
  • They may use audible cues.
  • They may obtain descriptions of how to get to a specific location from others.
  • In recent years more people are using some sort of electronic travel aid at least part of the time by using the GPS function, mapping feature, or an accessible travel related app on a smart phone.

The following design features are basic elements of wayfinding used by people impacted by blindness. They are described in detail throughout the Design Needs section.

  • Logical and intuitive space
  • Textural contrasts and tactile cues
  • Acoustics
  • Colour and brightness contrast
  • Signage, including tactile, braille and large print high colour contrasted signs
  • Appropriate, well-designed lighting
  • indoor navigation beacons are becoming more popular and are being provided in many public spaces
  • virtual agent assistance, especially in large hectic spaces such as airports are also becoming increasingly more popular

Any combination of these design elements may be used in wayfinding depending on a person’s level of vision, the level of training they have received to help them walk with the long cane, prior knowledge of a space or their needs at any given time.