Health care signs with universal symbols can be an important tool in increasing access to a facility's services. Over recent decades, as the issue of access has gained increasing attention, facility managers have adopted strategies such as retaining language interpreters on staff or on call, and publishing materials in multiple languages. In the last half dozen years, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has made a set of icons available that promise to ameliorate the problem as well. Of course, as with any design challenge, health care signs with universal symbols must be crafted to maximize their effectiveness. It is crucial that such materials be applied with a clear understanding of the institution's individual circumstances. An experienced signage developer can be very helpful in this process.
The glossary of visual icons for health care signs with universal symbols consists of 54 symbols, covering the vast majority of activities that visitors and staff will encounter in any facility. They were developed over a period of years, with the help of test subjects who are speakers of a variety of languages and come from a stunning range of cultural backgrounds. This was a crucial feature of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation development process, because health care signs with universal symbols will be read by folks whose preconceptions of what constitutes a chapel, for example, or a bathroom, to use another example, could be radically different from visitor to visitor. Each symbol was put through at least three stages of testing, presenting a menu of alternatives. From these, testers could choose the one that that they perceived as most clearly expressing the term being evaluated, whether "Chapel", or "Ophthalmology", or one of the other several dozen possible departments and activity centers
In order to create a system of health care signs with universal symbols the facility should first test and document how visitors find their way (or fail to) with current signage, printed materials, and other cues. This should be followed by interviews with staff and visitors of as many categories as possible, to determine their impression of the way-finding system that is in place already, no matter how rudimentary. The feedback about the experience of users of the facility, gleaned from these interviews, should be analyzed to discover where the potential points of confusion are.
The system of health care signs with universal symbols, along with other materials such as brochures, flyers, as well as wall and floor color cues, that results from these investigations needs careful and thoughtful attention to correct installation. Size, placement, color, saturation, lighting, supplemental text, and other factors can affect the way that any sign, including health care signs with universal symbols, impact the viewer. A firm that has specialized experience and competencies in advising health care facilities on such issues is the best choice, especially if the facility does not have a fully staffed department to deal with signage matters.
A well-thought out system of health care signs with universal symbols will welcome all to the facility, no matter their background. It reaches out to all who enter, and indicates the institution's willingness to be truly there for all members of their community. It demonstrates a commitment to access for everyone that cannot help augment institutional success.