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Tactile paving: Seeing with your feet

Google Doodle on March 18th to celebrate Seiichi Miyake, inventor of the tactile paving system

Today’s Google Doodle celebrates Seiichi Miyake. He invented tactile paving in 1965 in Japan to help a visually impaired friend navigating around town. The first set of tactile paving tiles was installed next to the Okayama school for the blind and visually impaired. According to the World Health Organization, there are about 1,3 billion people with some form of vision impairment and 36 million people are blind in 2018, showing the significance of Miyake’s invention. The following video gives a short intro into tactile paving and its history.

An overview of the history and benefits of tactile paving by the simpleshow foundation

The tactile paving system invented by Seiichi Miyake consisted of two patterns. The first is a series of lines, a directional guide which indicates to move forward. The second one consists of truncated domes and indicates possible danger nearby. The texture of the tiles can be identified either by a cane or by the way they feel under your feet.

“Tactile paving is a system of textured ground surface indicators found on public environments to assist blind and visually impaired persons to distinguish locations and directions and identify potential hazardous and then to move and reach expected destinations.”

– J. Lu, K. W. M. Siu and P. Xu

By now, Seiichi Miyake’s invention has spread to many countries and can be found at sidewalks, train stations, crossings. Nowadays they come in many different shapes which enables the communication of more complex information than “stop” and “go”. With that, tactile paving enables the visually-impaired to navigate independently and with confidence in public spaces.

In a BBC video, Dr. Amy Kavanagh, an activist for the visually-impaired explains the different patterns of tactile paving on her daily commute. On her twitter account, she’s also raising awareness on the topic and educates the public.

But the tactile paving system does not only create a safer commute for the visually-impaired. With our increased smartphone usage, many people with good vision tend to forget to “watch out” in traffic, e.g. when crossing a street. Smartphone usage not only drastically reduces the field of vision of pedestrians but also distracts their situational awareness and slows down attentional processes. Design agency Büro North had the brilliant idea to use the existing tactile tiles for displaying traffic messages such as the status of the traffic light. With that, smartphone users would be able to see the traffic message on the tactile paving tiles which are in their field of vision while using their smartphone.

Video by Büro North

Source: J. Lu, K. W. M. Siu and P. Xu, “A comparative study of tactile paving design standards in different countries,” 2008 9th International Conference on Computer-Aided Industrial Design and Conceptual Design, Kunming, 2008, pp. 753-758