Airport Cooperative Research Program of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Transportation Research Board


Washington, DC




Experiential Design and Wayfinding

Few people would disagree that air travel can be stressful. It can be especially stressful for elderly travelers and people with disabilities such as visual impairment, mobility limitations or problems with short-term memory, given complex navigational challenges not met by standard approaches to wayfinding and signage.

The Airport Cooperative Research Program (ACRP) selected Gresham Smith to develop ACRP Research Report 177: Enhancing Airport Wayfinding for Aging Travelers and Persons with Disabilities—a practical, researched-based guidebook that is helping airport operators and planners improve the passenger experience by enhancing wayfinding systems so older adults and persons with diverse abilities can travel independently.

To view the report, visit the Transportation Research Board’s website.

A Matter of Principles

Because the guidebook is founded on the principles of universal design, the best practices and principles outlined within were developed to remain resilient over time—regardless of technology and wayfinding system changes. By adhering to these key principles, ACRP report 177 improves the safety and welfare of all travelers, not just those with disabilities.

a close up of an interior page of ACRP research report 177 with a checklist of wayfinding best practices

A First-of-its-Kind Checklist

The guidebook introduces a first-of-its-kind Wayfinding Accessibility Audit Checklist. The inaugural checklist includes wayfinding strategies and accessibility features relevant to a passenger’s specific disability, and equips airport operators and consultants with a consolidated tool that goes beyond Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility (ADA) Standards to reach the goal of promoting independent travel for elderly travelers and people with disabilities.

how airport wayfinding signage appears to a 70 year old with normal vision how airport wayfinding signage appears to a 20 year old with normal vision
aging travelers and persons with disabilities using an app on their phones to navigate airport

There’s an App for That

The other prototype tool developed by our research team is a mobile wayfinding application. The app was tested by participants with diverse and varying degrees of a disability, allowing us to observe the most common problems these user groups encountered when navigating an airport. The results led to the development of a mobile app criteria for any airport or developer that wants to elevate their wayfinding app to be used effectively by people of all abilities. A testimony to the app’s success, several app developers, as well as airports, are now utilizing this technology.