The National Academies

ACRP 07-13 [Final]

Enhancing Airport Wayfinding for Aging Travelers and Persons with Disabilities

  Project Data
Funds: $389,792
Research Agency: Gresham Smith and Partners
Principal Investigator: James Harding
Effective Date: 6/9/2014
Completion Date: 2/17/2017

ACRP Research Report 177: Enhancing Airport Wayfinding for Aging Travelers and Persons with Disabilities is a comprehensive, practical guidebook to help airport operators, airlines, and planners assist aging travelers and persons with disabilities travel independently within airports using pedestrian wayfinding systems. The guidebook addresses travel by people with cognitive, sensory, and other mobility challenges.  It includes a template for a baseline airport wayfinding accessibility audit; instructions to assist airports in creating a signage and services gap analysis as well as a wayfinding plan; the aspects of visual, verbal, and virtual wayfinding information to help the passenger with directions; and methods that would allow aging travelers and passengers with disabilities to comfortably utilize technology for wayfinding. The guidebook also has suggestions for web-based information for assistance (e.g., airport, airline, and TSA websites); standardization of wayfinding user interface systems within the airport(s), including technological interfaces; and compliance with federal and international regulations and standards.  
Independent travel in airports for aging travelers and passengers with disabilities such as low vision/blindness, mobility limitations, or problems with short-term memory presents complex navigational challenges that are not met by standard approaches to wayfinding and signage. While adequate illumination and ADA-compliant signage, as recommended in ACRP Report 52: Wayfinding and Signing Guidelines for Airport Terminals and Landside may provide some benefit, additional efforts are needed to help these passengers travel independently in airport environments. Meeting the wayfinding needs of these travelers is currently accomplished by the provision of personal guides for assistance.  In the United States, currently implemented accessible wayfinding systems are not optimized to provide information for wayfinding and travel by people with cognitive, sensory, or mobility challenges in complex indoor environments such as airports. Currently, the field is centered on development of indoor position-sensing technologies such as beacons and on delivery of wayfinding information via accessible applications for smart phones. With the projected growth in the number of aging travelers, it is imperative to develop practices to accommodate their wayfinding needs in addition to those of passengers with disabilities.
Under ACRP Project 07-13, research was conducted by Gresham, Smith and Partners in association with Open Doors Organization, Arora Engineers, Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Southern Florida, John K. Duval, and Southwest Airlines.  The objective of this guidebook is to help airports successfully communicate information to aging travelers and persons with disabilities to help them find their way using the principles of universal design. It is worth noting that most of the report’s recommendations can be used to benefit all travelers. The guidebook covers the different elements of the passenger journey through departures, arrivals, and connections. An essential part of the research, conducted at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport was for field testing of a prototype mobile application serving as the basis of the application guidelines criteria. The appendices contain a Wayfinding Accessibility Audit Checklist developed as part of the research (that is available as a separate electronic file) and 3D models of a customer journey segments in a virtual airport. There is also a Powerpoint available that summarizes the project.  

STATUS: The research is published as Report 177

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