Using Pictograms to Make Transit Easier to Navigate for Customers with Communication Barriers

Navigating the public transit system appears simple for frequent riders during routine times, but in an emergency the transportation system can bewilder all riders. In emergencies -- no-notice or short-notice events -- every aspect of communication becomes more difficult, particularly for people who can't understand spoken or written English. Studies of human brain response show that no one in an emergency has full capacity to receive information, apply reasoning, and make and act on sound decisions. Critical information must be far more concise and compelling than in normal circumstances. For especially vulnerable audiences, information must conveyed so that it leaps communication barriers, including lack of language proficiency; physical, sensory, or cognitive disabilities; age (very old or very young); and specific cultural orientations or other limiting factors. Research under way for Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) Project A-33, Communications with Vulnerable Populations: A Transportation and Emergency Management Toolkit, reveals that communicating with people who have functional communication needs is regarded increasingly in transportation as every agency's concern, but, as yet, no entity's responsibility. The work of TCRP A-33 suggests that a particular set of tools -- pictograms -- could make a substantial contribution to effective communication with all populations in emergencies, and especially with people who have functional communication needs. The proposed research would explore issues raised by the work in TCRP A-33 about providing direction to people who are unable to read or speak English, as well as to usually competent English-speakers whose emergency-related responses (e.g., fear, haste, distraction) are barriers to understanding and action. Pictograms are picture-based communication tools that use illustrations with few or no words to communication critical information. Pictograms can be advantageous when used because they are more noticeable than written communication; provide the public with concise, instantaneous information; improve comprehension of critical messages for people with functional needs; and reduce the need for message translation. The objectives of this research include: (1) Locate and review existing information and ongoing research on behavior modification and wayfinding, particularly in the transportation realm, and including best or promising practices. (2) Develop and test with diverse audiences a set of pictograms around pre-selected scenarios, such as a weather disaster or terrorist attack. (3) Apply findings by conducting a pilot program around pictograms in emergency situations.


  • English


  • Status: Completed
  • Funding: $99827.00
  • Contract Numbers:

    Project A-33A

  • Sponsor Organizations:

    Federal Transit Administration

    1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
    Washington, DC  United States  20590

    Transit Cooperative Research Program

    Transportation Research Board
    500 Fifth Street, NW
    Washington, DC    20001
  • Principal Investigators:

    Mobley, Jane

  • Start Date: 20111021
  • Expected Completion Date: 0
  • Actual Completion Date: 20120930
  • Source Data: RiP Project 38676

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01549560
  • Record Type: Research project
  • Source Agency: Transportation Research Board
  • Contract Numbers: Project A-33A
  • Files: TRB, RiP
  • Created Date: Jan 3 2015 1:01AM