How to Create Accessible Wayside Exhibits

How do you ensure that you are providing visitors with inclusive and accessible experiences? Where do you start when planning for interpretive waysides that are accessible to all? Universal design features can be incorporated for a wide range of learning styles, abilities, and diverse backgrounds and multi-generational family groups. Placement, context, and environment all play a role in successfully conveying a story to a broad audience. Here are some tips and best practices for reaching your audience within your organization’s available budgets. With thoughtful planning, you can create engaging wayside exhibits designed for multi-generational, multisensory-attuned, and culturally and linguistically diverse audiences.


  • When developing outdoor wayside exhibits, the NPS Wayside Guide is an excellent resource. This is the process and framework we often work in at 106 Group.
  • Depending on your site, you will need to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA). Although there are subtle differences, at their core they try to accomplish the same thing: make spaces more accessible to more people. On a high level, ADA is more restrictive than ABA.
  • You should be more accessible because it is the right thing to do.
  • Providing accessibility also reduces liability and risk to your site or organization.

Best Practices

  • Start with physical accessibility. Overall, make it easy to experience the wayside. Make sure the path to the wayside exhibit is accessible to wheelchairs and walkers. This could mean pavement or crushed rock. Make sure the slope to the wayside is not too steep and that the ground in front of the wayside is level. If there is a parking lot nearby, make sure there is a curb cut for access and a barrier for safety. For low-profile exhibits, make sure a wheelchair can pull under while also not confusing cane-using visitors (i.e. use 27” of clearance).
  • Next, think about writing. Do you want to include more than one language? If so, work with a translator and make sure you have enough space in the design and time in the schedule. Consider approaches for visitors who may be English-language learners or have different cognitive abilities. Aim for sixth to eighth grade reading level using plain language and active voice. Check drafts using Microsoft Word Editor, Hemingway App, and other tools.
  • Use best practices in graphic design. Make sure to have large enough text sizes with good contrast. Use a clean background behind text. Darken, lighten, or add clean fades as needed. Maintain sufficient contrast between text and background. Note, too much light areas on a panel can be reflective with the sun and make it harder to read. Also, adding less ink on the panels can sometimes reveal imperfections in the sign surface. The smallest interpretive text should have a height no smaller than 3/16 inch. Note, that is larger than you think. And the main body should be much bigger than that. That most likely means using short, concise paragraphs. Let the visuals do heavy lifting so you can use less words. Use good hierarchy of text and visual elements, making it easy for visitors to navigate the composition.
  • Add Audio. Nearly everything done with visual design is hidden to a visitor without sight. Provide pre-recorded audio description for visitors with visual impairments. Provide additional content with audio tour stops (if you do, be sure to provide a written version of the audio script for visitors who cannot hear). Use solar powered outdoor speakers or handheld players to distribute the audio recordings.
  • Add Tactile Elements. Touchable moments help all visitors. Examples include identifying tree bark, plant leaves, maps, or architecture. Not all ideas translate to touch, so imagine as simple an idea as possible. Use full realistic (e.g. a whole 3D bird) or diagrammatic (e.g. a 2D line outline of a bird), but not something in the middle. Bronze is the best outdoor material. Other materials, like Marine Epoxy, can be colorized but it will need to be replaced every few years, while bronze will last a lifetime. Be sure to add Unified English Braille (UEB) to help caption your tactile elements. When possible, add raised letters for those who know letterforms instead of, or in addition to, braille. Mount tactile elements with bolts straight through the panels, hiding hardware from the visitors.

Incorporating accessible elements in wayside exhibits make it easier for all visitors to get to the content points more quickly. They also make your stories and messages accessible to a wider audience. Empower visitors to explore on their own, instead of being reliant on companions. You’ll brighten many a visitor’s day when they discover content created just for them!

Additional Resources