Temporary signs can be dangerous in the wrong place


For safety reasons, temporary sandwich board signs like this shouldn't be placed on sidewalks in the flow of pedestrian traffic. Photo by Christopher Gannon.

Temporary signage is common on campus, appearing fleetingly in spots chosen for maximum impact. But that impact can be unexpectedly unfortunate if movable signs -- especially sandwich boards -- are designed and placed without considering pedestrians who are blind or have low vision.

Ensuring temporary signs are satisfying accessibility requirements is an ongoing concern, said inclusion services coordinator Nora Ryan, who also is the university's Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator.

"A lot of these mistakes are committed inadvertently. We need to raise awareness so we can change the culture and encourage the universal design of spaces," she said. "You may not have a disability that affects your daily life, so you might not have that first-hand experience of navigating in a world where spaces aren’t designed with your needs in mind. It's innocent ignorance, in some ways. But that's why education and awareness are so vital."

One of the most common issues is sandwich board signs set up in the middle of sidewalks instead of next to them, Ryan said. That's a tripping hazard for pedestrians, especially blind and low-vision folks. Surprising obstacles also are dangerous for individuals with mobility devices such as wheelchairs and people distracted by their phones.

"It's not only annoying and frustrating, it can be a serious health and safety concern," said Ryan, who has received complaints from individuals who have tripped over these signs repeatedly across campus.  

Another concern, more prevalent indoors, is movable signs that block doors or permanent room signs, Ryan said. The floor space should be clear in front of permanent room signs, which contain braille text, Ryan said.

Ryan encourages anyone who notices a potentially hazardous sign to call or email her immediately at 294-0059 or nora@iastate.edu. The equal opportunity office also has an online form for submitting complaints about barriers to access.

University departments and offices have been receptive to requests to adjust sign placements, but it's often more difficult with special events, as the organizers are tougher to track down, Ryan said.

Ryan suggested four tips to make temporary signs more accessible:

  • Put it in the grass. Signs placed along campus walkways should be out of the flow of traffic and off the surface. The lone exception? A temporary sign is fine situated against a fixed object, even if the object is in the middle of a path.
  • Look behind you. Careless placement of stick-style temporary signs can block permanent signage that's essential for anyone navigating an unfamiliar space.
  • Hinge side is best. Avoid putting signs near door handles because individuals who use mobility devices need room to maneuver while opening the door. Provide at least the 18-inch square buffer area on the floor that permanent signs require. Even better, move the sign next to the door hinges instead.
  • Go big and bold. When designing a sign, use contrasting colors with the largest text possible to make it easier to read.