Tactile paving

In pedestrianised areas, a kerb upstand is the usual indicator between the end of a footpath and a road. However, in recognition of the difficulties faced by disabled persons – such as those with walking problems, those who are visually impaired or using a wheelchair – the Disabled Persons Act (1981) requires highway authorities to have level areas in certain locations such as pedestrian crossings.

Think about the last time you were at a pedestrian crossing? Have you ever wondered why the paving there, and also at certain footpaths, stairs and station platforms are raised and bumpy?  These bumpy areas of paving are known as ‘tactile paving,’ and they are there to provide a textured ground surface indicator for persons who are visually impaired, and the raised paving makes it easier and safer for them to move around independently.

Tactile paving was first developed by Seiichi Miyake in Japan in 1965, and his ideas quickly spread around the world. Tactile paving has further evolved and there are a number of different types of paving that indicate different warnings: –

Blister paving is used as a warning to someone with a visual impairment that they are at a road crossing, and consists of  uniform rows of flat-topped blisters in a square pattern.

Offset blister paving is found at train, tram and tube platforms, to warn visually impaired people of the edge of the platform. The blister tactile surface here is off-set and higgledy-piggledy with flat-topped dome blisters, spaced 66.5mm apart from the centre of one dome to the next,

Corduroy tactile paving consists of rows with rounded edges running length ways across the direction a pedestrian is walking, to highlight a potential hazard which could be the top or bottom of stairs, at a level crossing or at a ramp. It is also used where a footway joins a shared route.

In response to proposed Government changes for tactile paving in 2015, RNIB advised that in the United Kingdom, almost two million people are living with sight loss that has a serious impact on their daily lives and activities, and around 360,000 people are registered blind or partially sighted.

People who are visually impaired often use a mobility aid to help them to move around independently. The most common aid is a long white cane used to scan the ground, but an increasing number of people are now using a long cane with a roller tip end. The roller tip maintains contact with the ground as the cane is swept and can indicate the presence of changes in texture underfoot, as well as any obstructions.

When moving around a pedestrian environment, visually impaired people will actively seek out tactile paving, as a means of knowing what is ahead of them. The ability to detect contrasts in texture underfoot does vary however from one individual to another, and older visually impaired people and those who have lost their sight through certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, may well have reduced sensitivity in their feet. It is important then that the texture warning of potential hazards are thorough and particular enough to be detectable by those who are visually impaired, but without constituting a trip hazard or causing extreme discomfort.

Visually impaired people can receive training in mobility skills. The Joint Mobility Unit – a service provided by the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) and the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association (GDBA,) produces a self-instructional training pack which informs visually impaired people of the different tactile paving surfaces and their prescribed meanings.

There is another aid that visually impaired persons can use to help them cross the road safely. Hardly anyone else seems to know about this though, which is surprising, because in many areas of the country it can be found on every street… and it saves lives!

This somewhat secret device is hidden underneath the signal control box itself. When the green man light comes on, a small plastic or metal cone with tactile ridges starts to revolve, and when persons who are visually impaired feel it spinning, they know for certain that they have the right of way, and can safely cross the road.

This unassuming little device came about in the early 1980’s when Nottingham University took the idea to the Department of Transport, but it wasn’t until 1989 that they began to appear on our streets. Interestingly, the cones aren’t built into the signal control boxes as they are made, but are retro-fitted instead.

So why not try this for yourself, and stand at the crossing with your hand under the control box waiting for the cone to spin. Beware though if it is winter! The metal signal control box can be freezing cold, so it is best to do this whilst wearing gloves.

A great little article and video from the BBC explaining the hidden code on our pavements.



If you would like to read more about tactile paving, you can view the Department or Transport publication, Guidance on the use of Tactile Paving at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-on-the-use-of-tactile-paving-surfaces