Accessibility is one of the most important considerations in architecture, as it ensures that the built environment satisfies people of all abilities.
However, popular conceptions of disability and accessibility remain limited and typically only encompass people with physical disabilities, such as wheelchair users. Especially among designers and architects, it is common to visualize accessibility as the addition of ramps, wide hallways, and elevators. However, disability can take many different forms, some less visible than others; consequently, accessibility in architecture means much more than accommodating only wheelchair users. For the visually impaired, incorporating specific tactile elements into urban architecture and design can greatly improve the navigability of an unfamiliar space. In this article we talk about specific tactile tiles, including their different shapes, their history and their implementation.
In 1965, Japanese engineer and inventor Seiichi Miyake first developed podotactile tiles to help a friend who was beginning to experience visual problems. Two years after his invention, Okayama City in western Japan became the first city to install tactile pavements around the city. Ten years later, it was widely adopted by the Japan National Railway and, in 1985, it became a requirement in cities across the country. Soon, it spread beyond the borders of Japan; Today, tactile tiles are ubiquitous not only in Asian countries, but also in Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and of course our Australia.
There is a wide variety of tactile pavements, with different colors, shapes and meanings. Tactile tiles are typically painted in bright colors to make them more visible to visually impaired pedestrians; The law in the United States (Americans with Disabilities Act), for example, requires that the contrast between the color of the tiles and the surrounding pavement be at least 70%. Many countries use a bright yellow color for this purpose. The pavement extrusions also follow a specific code. In Australia, tiles with dots extruded in parallel lines indicate a transition from sidewalk to street. Similarly, tiles with dots extruded in alternating lines warn people of the edge of a railroad platform.
Another type of tactile paving is the warning tile with lines extruded in parallel. In Australia, these tiles warn of specific hazards such as steps, ramps or platforms. Others, especially directional or orientation ones, guide the movement of users rather than warn them of dangers. These tiles use parallel extruded lines in the direction that people should walk, helping them avoid obstacles such as street furniture or vegetation. Depending on the country and its regulations, there is generally also a minimum height for tile extrusions.
These tiles can be made of different materials and are applied simultaneously in different ways. A common material for tactile flooring is rubber, which can be quickly installed with an airtight seal to the existing flooring. Other tiles can be made of stainless steel, adhering to the concrete with epoxy glues.
These tactile surfaces like tactile warning strips are absolutely essential for architecture and urban design, allowing visually impaired people to more easily move through the built environment, since the disability is not in the person, but in the barriers of the physical space. To incorporate them most effectively, architects should actively consult the accessibility guidelines of their own country or locality. By following these basic guides, it is even possible to make these functional products become an added value for architectural design, creating inclusive projects that, from their details, improve the lives of all their occupants.
After all, tactile surfaces are very important in modern architecture, especially in our country which pays attention to people with disabilities.