Four ways Metrolinx makes public transit easier for people with vision loss

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The Metrolinx Wayfinding team takes steps to maximize the accessibility of the transit system for all riders.

Universal Design Philosophy

When creating navigation and information systems, Metrolinx applies the principles of universal design, which means that all customers are treated equally, rather than distinguishing people based on their needs. It is a fundamental condition of good design that reflects the diversity of people who use it and imposes no barriers of any kind.

“We don’t treat the path taken by a customer in a wheelchair as separate from the path taken by anyone else – nor do we report it that way,” said Toban Allison, director of the guidance from Metrolinx.

When it comes to signage, Metrolinx’s rule is to refer to the equipment, not the person.

“We always talk about what the equipment is — like an elevator — which makes it a little less about a person’s disability and more about the equipment that’s there,” Allison said.

In line with this belief, the wayfinding team is currently working to complement the international symbol of access with references to amenities – such as lifts and ramps – in their signage.

In doing so, the systems also include more other people who may need a lift or ramp, such as someone with a stroller or someone using a cane.

“We’re trying to broaden the lens that we use around the way we design and sign our facilities, to accommodate a larger group of people – and in doing so, I think we’re treating everyone much more equally. “said Allison.

Bus stop poles with distinct sounds

Metrolinx is working with municipalities across the region to install special bus stop poles that make a distinct sound when tapped, in an effort to accommodate people with sight loss.

Allison explained that the idea came from feedback from a member of Metrolinx’s Accessibility Advisory Committee (AAC), who has vision loss and uses a white cane.

“The challenge they explained to us was that they struggled to identify which of the many poles their cane hit was the bus stop pole they should be waiting for,” Allison said. “What we have developed as an answer is a distinct base, intended to be mounted on the poles of bus stops, which is intended to be easily recognizable. If you tap it, it will make a distinct noise.

The team offered this solution to AAC through a dedicated site visit to review this functionality as well as the new signage in person.

“It allowed us to consider factors that we couldn’t necessarily consider in a boardroom,” Allison said. “For example, it was cold and damp, which impacted how long an individual was willing to keep their hands out of their pockets to read a sign.”

Going forward, Metrolinx aims to use more digital technologies to make stations more accessible, for example by implementing audio features on cell phones.

Signage in several languages

To make stations more accessible where text is needed, Metrolinx will be installing new signage with messages in multiple formats.

“We do embossed text in English and French, and Braille in English and French, so we provide information in four formats,” Allison said.

The team not only aims to give context about where the customer is, but also what is on each floor.

“We’re still iterating around this, but it’s going to be super helpful. It’s more information than we’ve ever provided for elevators,” Allison added.

However, the team tends to be sensible when implementing features for people with sight loss.

“The reason for this is not because we don’t want to educate these people on how to navigate a station – but because providing the information in this way is not representative of how they actually experience the journey,” Allison said. “In other words, they often don’t feel the wall trying to find braille – they have a number of different means of travel, and we design them because they’re much more dignified.”

Tactile floor tiles

Instead of just focusing on things like braille signs, Metrolinx is working to implement features that might be more convenient for people with sight loss.

“We’re looking at providing tactile directional wayfinding tiles — which are less about braille and raised text,” Allison said.

An initiative of the Metrolinx Universal Design team, the Directional Tactile Wayfinding Tiles are comprised of a different tiling pattern than the yellow tactile warning tiles used along the edges of higher transit platforms . Orientation tiles are installed in the surface of the ground to facilitate orientation in open areas and to indicate a direct route that can be taken by cane users.

“We are trying to create the ideal solution for independent access for people with vision loss. It’s something we continue to work on,” Allison added.

In general, the Metrolinx Orientation team is fully dedicated to advocating for the rights of people with disabilities – and never assumes they know the answer.

“If I could say one thing about accessibility and wayfinding at Metrolinx, it’s that we really want people with disabilities to shape everything we do,” Allison said. “We want to design in a way that meets their needs and, at best, anticipates their needs. We want to get feedback from people with disabilities and involve them in user testing before implementation at all stations. We will continue to improve in this area, but these are the drivers of what we do and we will just try to keep improving.

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