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

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Aged, Behavior modification, Bus transit, Cognitive impairment, Deaf persons, Emergencies, Emergency communication systems, Messages (Communications), Physically handicapped persons, Pilot studies, Public transit


This is an evidence-based report on efforts to determine if pictograms – picture-based communication tools that use illustrations with few or no words – can be effective in communicating emergency information and behavioral modification in a transit emergency to people with communication challenges. This report distills efforts that have gone into developing and implementing pictograms in a variety of settings, including transit, transportation, health, manufacturing, and hospitality. It also analyzes a body of primary research from interviews with bus drivers and operators who identified critical messages; experts who work with or serve people with communication challenges; and end users, passengers with communication challenges. The end users included people who were native English-speakers; who spoke little or no English; people who were deaf or hard of hearing; people with cognitive, sensory, or physical disabilities; people who were over the age of 65; and people who were new to the transit system. Bus transit was selected to fit the limited scope of this study, although the conclusions reached can have applicability to other transit modes as well. Four transit agencies and their partner community service providers conducted pilot tests inside parked buses to assess a set of 10 original pictograms designed to capture the drivers’ messages. The research proves that pictograms can be effective, but it also suggests that substantial study is yet to be done to identify universal images that would convey the messages transit drivers consider most important.


Permission to publish the abstract has been given by Transportation Research Board, Washington, copyright remains with them.