By Cristina Kelly
In response to recent Canadian legislation and social discussions addressing instances of exclusion encountered by sexual-minority individuals who do not conform to conventional gender norms, Toronto-based environmental graphic design (EGD) firm Entro Communications has assisted the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) Group in developing a new standard for appropriate signage for ‘universal’ washrooms (specifically, single-use facilities, where a lockable room contains a single toilet and sink) in health-care facilities. The design challenge was to improve upon the common pictograms currently used for washroom signage, so as to set a precedent that would accurately represent an inclusive environment, while requiring little explanation.
Given the focus of Entro’s work with wayfinding sign systems on how people experience public spaces and assets, the company was well-positioned to take an active role in helping the industry strategically shift such assets and related services to become more accessible and inclusive. The company and CSA’s combined efforts with respect to health-care facilities have since been shared with the Public Service of Canada, the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), 3M Canada and IBM, among other organizations seeking ways to make their own spaces more inclusive for all individuals.
Health care and beyond
The standard covers best practices, including the accommodation of Canadians’ rights to gender identity and expression, clear designations for accessibility and effective language and nomenclature. Entro began to receive questions from clients who also wanted to incorporate the needs and preferences of a wider community into their signage, but wondered which would be the right pictogram to use and how it would fit in with other accessibility and directional pictograms, as well as with overall environmental branding. Thus, the standard could help provide clarity for spaces beyond its original scope.
To devise further sign design recommendations and help address confusion in the broader design sector, Entro collaborated with its industry partners and clients, but particularly with Marni Panas, senior diversity and inclusion advisor for Alberta Health Services and a recognized advocate for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Queer (LGBTQ) issues in Edmonton, who has been deeply involved with CSA in its standard for health-care facilities. The goal was to learn more about organizational challenges, the many options that have surfaced and the communities most affected by existing washroom signage.
“Our number one priority was talking to the experts—meaning those who have personal experiences with non-inclusive signage,” says Wayne McCutcheon, Entro’s partner in charge.
Steps toward inclusivity
With respect to wayfinding signage, four principal scenarios exist for washrooms:
- Single-use washrooms, with a single toilet and sink in a lockable room.
- Multi-stall washrooms with urinals, which have traditionally been designated for male users.
- Multi-stall washrooms without urinals, which have traditionally been designated for female users.
- Other multi-use facilities with individually enclosed toilet stalls and a common sink area.
For the purposes of its recommendations, Entro addressed best practices and a signage standard in response to the first of these scenarios. The familiar gender-specific washrooms have already been discussed in relation to their ‘binary’ designations and, for many organizations, the solution has been to introduce a third option with inclusive washrooms, which are intended for use by individuals of any identity or expression. In many cases, after all, single-stall washrooms already exist within a facility; the public is simply being made more aware of their availability.
These washrooms are providing valuable opportunities for public discourse and education about inclusivity and acceptance. School boards, for example, are proudly announcing their commitment to ensuring the availability of inclusive washrooms, while other groups have made statements about their political stance on the issue. It is important, however, to take steps in the right direction by being well-informed. Many organizations are using pictograms that either reintroduce binary gender norms or refer explicitly to the inclusion of transgender individuals, rather than to universal inclusivity.
“These organizations have great intentions, but need to thoroughly review their solutions and make sure they are reflecting the needs of their community,” says Panas.