In this article, we are sharing the Lee Wilson’s story from Australia. He’s the founder of the ‘Accessible Exit Sign Project’ that he started in 2014.
Recent legislative changes in Australian have introduced more equitable access to and within commercial buildings. Similar changes to disability and human rights laws are occurring globally, and the world is becoming more accessible.
However, the movement to provide accessible and inclusive built environments is failing to extend to the area of emergency egress.
Therefore, the concept of ‘egressability’ must go hand-in- hand with accessibility. It implies that everyone has an equal right to life safety during an emergency, and whilst the method of emergency egress might vary for different user groups, nonetheless, everyone is given an opportunity to leave a building during an emergency.
So too, society is changing; we are living in higher density developments and occupying taller buildings, obesity is on the increase, and with an aging population, we can expect to see an increase in disabilities. Additionally, the threat of terrorist attacks in public spaces is now a fact of life across the western world.
By considering egress-ability principles we can provide additional accessible features within egress paths to ensure a safer and more intuitive environment and reduces risks for building owners and managers.
One such concept that aligns to the notion of egressability is the Accessible Exit Sign Project. This campaign commenced in Australia in 2014. The project promotes the need for an accessible means of egress in all buildings for all occupants. The project presents ideas on the concept of accessible exit signage, in the form of the enhanced exit signs which adopt universal design principals. It is envisaged that these signs will soon become the norm and a minimum requirement in all new buildings around the world.
The primary goal of the project is to start discussions between industry stakeholders, disability groups, legislators, developers, and insurers etc., to look at better building design solutions that provide safer buildings, reduce risk and meet the needs of all occupants.
The project was founded by Lee Wilson, an accessibility consultant in Australia who whilst studying and writing a dissertation paper in 2013 identified some significant issues with how we plan for emergencies and the evacuation of people with disabilities.
Wilson continued his research and released an evacuation guidebook for people with disability in 2014 titled ‘Evacuation of People with Disability & Emergent Limitations: Considerations for Safer Buildings & Efficient Evacuations’. Two years later the 2nd edition was released.
One of Wilson’s early findings related to how we identify exit paths and communicate emergency information to occupants. This related to how exit signs are currently provided in commercial buildings, facilities, and transportation when conventional exit signs installed to meet minimum building codes requirements are not completely effective in providing sufficient cues to help all people locate an exit.
Specifically, Wilson found that existing forms of exit signage do not consider the needs of people with disability, particularly those who find fire escape stairs a barrier. He asked, “how do people that use a wheelchair know where to go during an emergency?”
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Late in 2013, Wilson developed the ‘Accessible Means of Egress Icon’, which can now be used to help identify accessible egress routes, exit doors, areas of refuge, elevators, and other evacuation devices. The Icon is a blend of the commonly used ‘Running Man’ type exit sign used around the world and a symbol of a person using a wheelchair quickly moving through an exit door.
The introduction of the ‘Accessible Means of Egress Icon’ onto exit signage changes the current discriminatory approach to emergency exit signs and presents a fully inclusive design.
Adopting egressability concepts provides opportunity look at alternative strategies to improve the effectiveness of emergency egress and exit sign strategies. This includes enhanced wayfinding systems that align with universal design principles to help people of all abilities identify exit doors, egress paths and places of safety. The Accessible Exit Sign Project helps to fill this need and signs featuring the ‘Accessible Means of Egress Icon’ are now available across Europe, U.S., Australia, and New Zealand.