What is “independent wayfinding”?

Image of painted yellow arrow pointing up

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) covers independent wayfinding as a right not a privilege.

At least according to Special Master and seasoned attorney, Mr David Ferleger, in his recent paper from the University of Pennsylvania Law Review.

We highly recommend reading the entire essay. But for those who prefer the Cliff Notes, here are RightHear’s key takeaways.

1. The importance of independent wayfinding

Mr Ferleger defines “independent wayfinding” as unassisted guidance to get from one location to another as independently as possible. Everyone has “a right to receive effective communication” and he argues this should, by default, extend to wayfinding signage. 

He acknowledges that wayfinding is “a universal need” but that disabilities – including visual impairments – can impede the experience of being able to safely and independently negotiate the built environment.

So what can be done?

2. The role of businesses

There are many policies to help businesses adhere to ADA requirements. There are even penalties in place for not complying with them. For visual impairments, the “built environment” has made progress with accommodations such as braille signage; but it’s not enough. 

Mr Ferleger notes that braille can be both limiting and limited because it’s in a static format, and people experience their environments fluidly. A signage-only approach is “insufficient” for independent wayfinding because it doesn’t account for the way people need to receive information.

So businesses must embrace solutions that provide “pinpoint and convenient assistance in the built environment”. 

3. The solution

According to the essay, “federal governments have recognized the benefits of wayfinding technology and have described the harms suffered by people with disabilities in the absence of such aid”. In essence, not providing effective communication causes harm, so wayfinding technology needs to be more widely adopted by businesses – and quickly!

4. Summary of benefits

Here are the top 5 benefits, according to the essay, of implementing independent wayfinding technology:

1. Static signage is limited in both capacity and value
2. Human assistants and guides can be very expensive, and are not always available when needed.
3. Technology is flexible and can easily adapt to real-time needs.
4. Location-precision is extremely accurate making the technology reliable.
5. Wayfinding solutions make exploring the built environment relevant and convenient.

The essay doesn’t name any specific technology or solution provider. But it’s a startlingly accurate description of what RightHear is delivering across over 2,000 locations worldwide. 

Contact our customer service team to learn how to create a more accessible and inclusive environment.