Transcript for presentation:

Searching for ways of improving usability, accessibility and safety for sight impaired people in complex transport environments


Aud Tennøy, Kjersti Visnes Øksenholt, Nils Fearnley and Bryan Matthews


C4. Guiding and accessibility in transport environments

Date and Time

2014-06-17, 10:20 - 11:00


MA 6

Presentation PDF

Long oral presentation

Transcript of the talk

>> Good morning, everyone.
This is a session with short talks on guiding and accessibility in transport environments.
You probably saw me yesterday morning in the plenary.
I won’t do much of the talking in this session. I was told to hand over the word to Kjersti Øksenholt, who will be talking about searching for ways of improving usability accessibility and safety for sight impaired people in complex transport environments.

>> Thank you. Can you all hear me fine?

I am Kjersti Øksenholt. I come from Norway.
And this lecture and presentation I will be giving today is based on project we did for the Norwegian Public Road Administration and the Norwegian Building Authorities.
And they wanted to have an outside view of how their standards actually were working.

The structure of my presentation is I will start with Universal Design and a little bit about the situation in Norway. I will say something about my research questions and the methods we used. I will say something in general about usable environments and about the standards. I will shortly present our findings, the knowledge — regarding the knowledge, the standards and the practice, and of course I will answer the research questions.

It’s defined by far of process of finding your way to a nation in a familiar or unfamiliar setting by using cues from the environment.
And this is a common and easy process for sighted people. But for the visually impaired, the visually impaired to a much greater degree rely on sounds and sound and changes in surfaces to orient themselves. Universal Design does not have one definition. But according to the Norwegian anti-discrimination and accessibility act and Universal Design is designing or accommodating the main solution, so it can be used by as many people as possible.
Hence you should preferably not design environments with the special facilitation as needed.
The Norwegian Public Roads Administration in one of their hand books says that it should be clearly defined, physical and easy to follow.
Sidewalks or walkways with well-defined borders are the easiest roads for those to follow. Most visually impaired search for a border free of obstacles and dangers.
In Norway we distinguish within natural and artificial lead lines. The natural lead line is considered the ideal facilitation and it consists of elements naturally belonging in the environment. So you will use different materials, different color and contrasts and stuff like that to mark the pathway.
The specialized tactile paving, it’s used for warning surfaces, when you need to warn of danger. In Norway that consists of knots or stubs in the ground.
You have guiding surfaces where you need to guide along a route where there is no natural guidance or where you need to guide around obstacles.
In Norway, the guiding surfaces consist of parallel sinusoidal waves which goes in the travel direction. And then you have information surfaces. And you use them when you need to inform about information about venues or stuff like that. In Norway these consist of also this sinusoidal waves, but in the direction of perpendicular to the travel direction.

And I had some more comments here.
In one of the hand books of the National Public Roads Administration, they also put on a condition where specialized tactile paving is appropriate and that is where the street environment is so complex that you need to clear and coherent leading elements. Of course, to warn of danger. When you need to express that the individual has arrived at certain or kind of or type of place and, of course, to compensate or correct for flows or errors in the natural guidance.
I have some pictures here. I will try to explain them, but it’s a little bit hard, but I will try. On the top left it’s a picture from inside the Norwegian Technical University. You have sinusoidal waves who leads the way for visually impaired, but you have a large pillar located really close to them specialized paving. And if you’re blind and you follow these lines, you are in clear danger of walking directly into the pillar. On the top right, it’s a picture from a street corner. It’s pretty hard to see on this picture, but from the street corner, you have two warning surfaces who goes out in 90-degree angle to each side of the curb from the wall. When you come to the crossing, you have a warning surface. But when you go across the crossing and out the other side, you have cobblestone and not a warning surface as it should be.

The picture on the bottom left is from a crossing in Oslo. Here we have a street corner with lowered curbs and they are lowered all the way around the corner crossing.
So here it can be really hard for blind people to take direction over the crossing and it could also be hard to know when you’re actually in the street, because you don’t have any gap between the curb and the street.
And on the bottom right you have Oslo’s main pedestrian street and it’s a little hard to see this, but you don’t have a name or warning signs when you cross the streets here. You don’t have any artificial lead lines, which could be okay, but you also have a lot of official signs and a commercial posters and billboards, and they are scattered around the streets, and often they are put in what is perceived as a natural pathway for blind and visually impaired. So our question then is, why do we end up with all these different solutions?
Our research question is based on the fact that the tactile paving seems to be chosen as a solution in the situation where the natural guidance could be possible. And there is a lack of consistency and homogeneity where tactile paving is laid out. Our question is how and why are some design process producing such results and how can the situation be improved?

We did a lot of different methods for this project. We had literature review and document studies where we read a lot of research literature. We read the Norwegian standards in different handbooks and guidelines and also some Scandinavian and foreign standard handbooks and guidelines.
We did some in-depth interviews with the authorities responsible for developing the standards, with organizations who represent the visually impaired and also with practitioners in the planning, designing, building and maintaining of the built environments.
And we had some seminars, two seminars with relevant stakeholders who are involved in or working with facilitation. The first seminar we got input and contribution for our preliminary findings and on the second seminar it served as kind of a quality control of our findings and conclusions.
So which makes usable environment? You should have simple and logical organization of the physical environment. You should have short distances between A and B, if it’s possible, of course. Obstacle free walkways, warning of danger, smooth, even paving, crosswalks, perpendicular to the curb, strong tonal contrast or strong as possible to get. And a coherent system tonal lead lines complemented with paving where necessary. They should contribute to the sign streetscapes. They should ensure usability for visually impaired is given priority and especially in competition with other considerations that also needs to be made.

The standard should be based on practical and scientific knowledge on how the visually impaired orient themselves in the environment, how they find their way and how they use the different elements in the built environment to do this.
And this knowledge must be translated into relevant and usable requirements and recommendations for those who actually use the standards.
What we find was, then, the research literature and mainly tactile paving and how the visually impaired use this, for instance, which kind of depth you should have on the waves or knobs for it to be detectable.

With research related to how the built environment should be organized and the sign to facilitate orientation wave finding for visually impaired, Atkin did empirical studies how visually impaired with different grades and sight loss and different assistive devices made use of natural and artificial elements and found that natural guiding elements are superior to artificial when it comes to orientation and wave finding. But our main finding is that there’s lack of systemic empirical research and that leaves the standards and hand books and guidelines not being able to carry the knowledge into the standards and practitioners on how the street scape should be usable and safe for visually impaired. When it comes to the standards, the natural lead lines are the first choice and solution. The tactile paving should preferably only be used where natural elements alone are not adequate or where warning is required. There is a general lack of descriptions and illustrations of natural lead lines and how these should be designed to ensure usability, accessibility and safety. And tactile paving is described in detail but when the tactile paving should and should not be used are diffuse and the description mainly represent ideal situation, not the complex situation that many face.
And the recommended solutions are seldom just further explained, so you don’t know exactly why this is the right thing to do, just that you should do it this way.
And the main finding is that the current standards, hand books and guidelines are not sufficient guidelines for encouraging practitioners to use natural lead lines as the solution and consider this in tactile paving systems. When it comes to practice, our interviews, they had good knowledge of basic principles in Universal Design but they also told us that most people in the field do not have the same level of expertise and understanding as they do. They try to facilitate the built environment with natural leading elements but the standards are not helpful in the complex situation they often face. So they often end up using tactile paving in these difficult situations.
Universal Design are often considered too late in the planning and design process.
There’s a struggle regarding the prioritization between various groups, various fellows and different objectives. And we wonder maybe the user consultation in Norway is in need of a professionalism. Often in smaller cities in Norway you have, for instance, one visually impaired, one blind person, and if the authorities are doing something, they might go directly to that person and ask, okay, but how should we do this? What works for you? Of course I don’t care you might end up with a solution that works for that person but this would lead for a lot of different solutions throughout the country.
But most often the user consultation is necessary and useful input. So how and why tactile paving use, where natural lead lines would be a better solution. Well, the practitioners face complex situation where several considerations must be taken into account. They face a situation where they introduce changes of elements in already existing streetscapes and where structures are already in place or where a zoning plan has already been decided upon. So it’s not easy to make a natural pathway if there are a lot of light posts in the middle of the way.
And the standards, they find big descriptions of natural guiding elements but elaborate descriptions of the tactile paving.
The lack of document and knowledge they can draw upon describe how the visually impaired orient — they lack the document knowledge that describe how the visually impaired actually orient themselves and find their way. They do not possess the relevant knowledge regarding these issues. So the practitioner face complex situations. There’s many considerations that need to be made, so the standards, they mainly give recommendation from simple situation and in the complex situation the practitioner, the standards might not help. So the practitioner, he might turn to research literature to find information about how the visually impaired orient and often the research literature is not helpful, at least not in the natural way or natural guidance.
So the need to figure out how to solve the situation on their own. And this leads to deviating the signs and inconsistencies and that is both in the same situation and different places, but also in different places, you will have different solutions. And this will also probably deviate from what the visually impaired would think would be the optimal solution because it’s a decision based on… okay, thank you.

>> Thank you. It was very interesting.


>> And I guess some of you have questions.
Yes, of course.

>> Very interesting. Thank you. That you came up with the need to look at this more, do you have any plans for that and what you see in standard, that is not described correctly or enough, are you doing any work on that side?
>> Not currently. But, of course, we hope that we can do more research later on, but we’re not doing anything on it currently. But we hope.

>> Hi, thanks for a nice talk. I sort of — this was because I was in the workshop Sunday and we looked at the station and after that it sort of — I kind of wondered if you could make the tactile guiding into a universal guiding, or if that is a stupid thought. Because you could — potentially everyone would like to be — know where is the center, where should I go, so you could have some sort of universal guiding. But then that would probably impact on, you know, these recommendations versus natural things, whatever. So I don’t know what your thoughts on that would be.
>> Well, it’s a good question. Well, the tactile paving, if it’s used correctly, it’s used in situations where you don’t have a good natural guidance. I talked to friends of mine, when I talked to them about the nubs, the crossings in the street, what I told them to do, to warn visually impaired, they were like, oh, but I’ve been walking in the street and stopped by the feel of it under my feet. So I think that if it’s implemented correctly, it can also help regular people, older people, stuff like that. And I think it’s really important to say that the tactile guiding is a really good solution in some situations, but, yeah, I don’t know. To talk about universal guiding, I think that that is more of a natural guidance, if I understand you correctly. So it’s more like what the environment actually looks like and how you can design this environment in a way that — for instance, visually impaired doesn’t feel that they are taken into special consideration. The environment in itself is so good design that… yeah, everyone can use it.

I hope that answered your question.


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