The emergency red cord often installed in hotel bathrooms, or toilets for disabled people in public buildings, is a visual symbol that the establishment is able to respond if a user needs urgent help.
As a piece of visual communication it can be very powerful, saying “this area is monitored and you can feel safe here”.
But, just as other forms of communication can be inappropriately used, so it is also with the red cord.
Good communications messages have to be consistent, meaningful and actually deliver what they promise, and the red cord is a useful metaphor.
In many disabled toilets, the red cord is often tied up (or, even worse, cut) to waist height or higher, presumably by over diligent employees who think it gets in the way if left dangling down to the floor.
But one of the purposes of the red cord is to enable a disabled person who may have tripped over or fallen out of a wheelchair to summon help. The red cord is of no use if it is halfway up the wall, out of reach of an out-stretched arm. Even a metre above the floor may be too high for a disabled person with limited mobility.
In hotel bedrooms, the red cord is often at bed height – perfect for someone whilst in bed to use to summon help, but of no use at all should that person have inadvertently fallen out of bed.
So, although the outward message of having a red cord clearly shows the organisation cares about their disabled customers or patrons – and so they should – that message can become worthless if it is not correctly implemented. In fact, in the case of an emergency cord, a cord out of reach can be worse than no cord at all, because a disabled person would not expect to be able to summon help easily if there were no cord, and would perhaps take other precautions. This makes the communication not only worthless, but can also create a negative impression.
If you see a red cord half way up the wall, let the management know and help them get their communication message right.