7/101 Footsights, or Braille for the Feet

A portion of 'blister' tactile paving

Equipment

You, your feet and a suitable local footwalk.

Background

Staring from Japan in the mid 60s tactile pavements have spread across the world. Sometimes described as ‘Braille for the feet’, these textured surfaces help visually impaired people navigate and avoid hazards by recognizing the texture when they walk on it. A very familiar kind is the blister seen above. But other forms include corduroy, lozenge and cycle way, all warnings, and directional tactiles, which help with way-finding or obstacle avoidance. Here’s an interesting and decorative example.

Decorative tiling pattern incorporating tactile lines

The idea of this experiment is for you to practice seeing blister paving with your feet, as someone with visually impairment might have to.

Experiment

Seek out a controlled pedestrian crossing near where you live. It will typically have a ramp down from the pavement to the road surface, and a corresponding ramp on the other side. There will be a patch of blister pavement behind the ramp and the ramp will be blistered.

Now try to imagine you are blind and relying on “footsight”. I’m not suggesting you cross the road with eyes closed. But try to keep your head up and experience the crossing through the soles of your feet as much as you can, without looking down. Notice the blister paving does have a very distinctive feel and is easy to detect. Feel where the road begins and where the tactile pavement starts on the other side.

Reflection

I always vaguely imagined the ramp was for the benefit of those with vision problems, but it seems it’s not. It’s for people in wheelchairs. But once you introduce the ramp it becomes hard for blind and visually impaired crossers to know when the sidewalk ends and the road begins, and vice versa at the other side of the road. So the need for the blister paving.

Next experiment

The next post in the series, 8/101 will be ‘Seeing the Future’.

Credits

White tactile paving 01, ICONPARK

Tactile lines by darkweasel94 (Own work) [Attribution], via Wikimedia Commons

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About partialinsight

One evening I had a stroke. Half my sight vanished overnight. Adapting made me grasp how amazing the visual system and brain are. It also taught me to understand disability completely differently and I'm grateful for the lesson.
This entry was posted in 101 experiments in seeing, Assistive technology, Blindness and visual impairment, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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