This is the first of three linked Expert series articles examining factors impacting on the mobility of people with sight loss. Here, Helen Aluko-olokun, Policy Business Partner (Access and Inclusion) at Guide Dogs explores the importance of tactile paving and pedestrian controlled crossings.
Seeing it my way outcome 7 (That I can get out and about) is defined as “I will be able to travel outside my home confidently and safely and on my own terms.” We know that people with sight loss need inclusive external environments to be able to participate in community life. Inclusive environments will incorporate tactile paving with good contrast and formal road crossings, ideally pedestrian controlled. However, such standards are not always met.
Existing Department for Transport Guidance on tactile paving is not found to be very helpful by architects and designers as modern street design is seen to move away from the traditional street design. At the same time, there is anecdotal evidence that some councils have been removing pedestrian-controlled crossings or replacing them with “informal” crossings. It is apparent that many, if not most blind and partially sighted people don't fully understand the different types of tactile paving or their purpose. Inconsistencies in layout or inappropriate deployment can make it even more difficult to interpret what it is meant to convey. In short, the guidance is not working as well as it could from either a design or end user perspective. It is clear that there is room for improvement as well as a need to raise awareness amongst people with sight loss of how they can make best use of features intended to enhance their mobility where they do exist.
In November 2014, Guide Dogs organised a workshop bringing together major stakeholders with an interest in tactile paving to explore how some of the long standing issues limiting its effectiveness can be tackled. As well as individual blind and partially sighted people, the workshop (which was co-sponsored by the Department for Transport and the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design) brought together representatives from the architecture and design communities, road safety experts and local authority sensory services.
Following the workshop, DfT has committed to revising the guidance on tactile paving and its layout within the street environment. This will involve further research and a public consultation. The revised guidance has the potential to be simpler and easier for end users to understand as well as offering more flexibility to designers and therefore encourage greater compliance. Guide Dogs will be working with DfT and other stakeholders on the consultation and in revising the guidance.
In parallel with this work, Guide Dogs has developed a Tactile Paving Self Training Pack to enable blind and partially sighted people and their families to teach themselves about the appropriate use of the different types of paving. This new initiative will be piloted in a number of our Mobility Teams. Once we have evaluated its usefulness and made any necessary refinements we will look to make it more widely available. We would also develop a version of the pack for use with children and young people initially through Blind Children UK.
Guide Dogs also commissioned research into the use of pedestrian crossings by blind people comprising a literature review conducted by the University of Leeds and focus groups held around the UK. This research will be published shortly and provides very strong evidence to support the retention of traditional pedestrian-controlled crossings. This is an area that we believe requires further research, not least of which because we still only have anecdotal evidence that pedestrian controlled-crossings are being phased out in some areas. Whilst we are aware of specific examples, we do not have a sense of the scale of such practice or the rationale for doing so. We might speculate that it is driven by a desire to lower maintenance costs or improve traffic flow. But what ever the scale or reason, it is clear that such practice has a negative impact on the mobility of people with sight loss and so is something that we need to continue to resist.
For further information, please contact Helen Aluko-olokun (Policy Business Partner) Strategy and Research Team at:
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