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Summary: Those who are responsible for designing buildings should consider the needs of people with vision impairments. This section offers some guidelines.
For many people who are blind or who have low levels of vision, the negotiation of unfamiliar buildings, streets or thoroughfares is an extremely stressful experience.
- Inappropriately placed street furniture
- Obstacles on circulation routes
- Inadequate directional guidance
- Lack of tactile information
The above factors combine to force people with vision impairments to be dependent on others, limiting their capacity to participate freely in day to day life.
Those who are responsible for designing buildings or planning the external environment should consider the needs of people with vision impairments. An environment which is user friendly for people who have impaired vision is an environment which is better for everyone.
Many of the guidelines and suggestions listed on the following pages could be considered as safety issues.
The Mobility Advisory Team of NCBI would like to thank Niamh O’Doherty and Gerry Kinsella (formerly of the National Rehabilitation Board) for their considerable contribution to the compilation of these Guidelines.
Vision impairment may range from total blindness to limited vision in particular situations. For many, the use of good lighting, texture and tonal (colour) contrast in the environment can make all the difference.
Common difficulties encountered by people with vision impairments include:
1. Night vision reduced or non-existent
2. Difficulties in bright light
3. Difficulties when moving from bright to darker areas
4. Difficulties moving from dark to brighter areas
5. Central vision loss – no detailed vision for reading
6. Peripheral vision loss – reduced vision to one side, both sides, above or below, sometimes described as ‘looking through straws’
7. Can only see movement
8. Can only see blurred outlines
9. Can only detect light
Approach to buildings
1. Clear markings and signage should be provided, to identify the building from the public footpath. In some cases it may also be necessary to provide a change of texture and colour underfoot. (Ref. Guidance on the use of Tactile Surfaces).
2. Doorways should be easy for people with vision impairment to locate and identify.
3. All outward-opening doors, e.g. escape doors, must be protected and should not project into circulation paths. Internal doors should open inwards from circulation paths and from busy to less busy areas. (Ref. Buildings for Everyone).
4. Frameless glass doors present a problem to people who have impaired vision. This can be overcome by having a highly visible frame that is in contrast with the wall area around the door. All glazed doors should be identified by a bold band of solid, contrasting colour at hand and eye level (this bold band should preferably be in yellow). (Ref. Part M of the Building Regulations). Colour should contrast with the background visible through the door, whether on the inside looking out or on the outside looking in. (Ref. Building Sight).
Glazed door with distinctive door frame and markings on the glass.
5. Ironmongery should be easy to locate, identify and use. Location and identification can be facilitated by the use of colour or tonal contrast between the ironmongery and the door or window.
6. Flush thresholds should be used.
7. Where revolving doors are used, an alternative swing door should be provided adjacent to the main entrance. (Ref. Part M, Building Regulations).
8. Tactile warning should be provided at approach to automatic doors. Automatic doors should have guard rails, power floor mats, push or kick plate, horizontal or vertical sensing device and the doors should remain fully open until area is cleared by user. Sliding automatic doors are safer than swinging automatic doors.
9. Doors which remain ajar are extremely hazardous for vision impaired people. Doors are best fully open or completely closed; therefore, where appropriate, automatic door closure devices should be considered.
10. Entrance must be well illuminated with even lighting between entrance and reception area. (Also see section on Lighting, above)
Stairs, steps and slopes
1. Tactile warning surface must be provided in advance of stairs or slopes, to warn of the change of level. (Ref. Part M of the Building Regulations and Guidance on the use of Tactile Paving Surfaces).
2. The leading edge of all steps should be clearly marked in contrasting colour or tone. These markings should be flush with the steps so as not to be a tripping hazard. (Ref. Part M of the Building Regulations, 2007).
3. The stair markings should run the entire width of the step and be 50 to 75mm wide on both tread (‘floor’ of step) and riser (upright part of step).
4.In a single flight of stairs each step should be of uniform measurement. Each tread should not be less than 280mm in depth and the riser should not be greater than 150mm in height.(Ref. Technical Guidance, Part K Building Regulations 1997)
5. Where headroom on the underside of stairs or escalators is less than 2200mm, this area must be guarded to eliminate hazard. The provision of railings, solid wall or planted area are some means of meeting this requirement.
6. Single or isolated steps must be avoided.
7. Spiral and curved staircases should be avoided.
8. Where ramps are provided to facilitate wheelchair users, there should be an associated stepped approach with handrails.(Ref. Part M of the Building Regulations)
9. Handrails should be provided on both sides of the stairs or ramp and should extend beyond the first and last step to a minimum of 300mm. (Ref. Part M of the Building Regulations)
10. Handrails should follow the exact contour of the stairs in order to provide directional guidance and handrail endings should turn inwards to the wall, or downwards all the way to the ground, to avoid hazardous projections.
11. Handrails should contrast with walls, to make them easy to find for people with vision impairments. The use of shiny materials on handrails or on stairs, or on the walls on each side of stairs, can cause dazzling from the glare of reflected light.
12. Dull metal handrails do not contrast with grey or other light-coloured walls when viewed by a person with vision impairment.
Please refer to Part M of the Building Regulations for handrail design specifications.
(Ref. Part M Building Regulations)
1. Lift should be conveniently located in relation to the lobby.
2. Lift buttons should have Braille as well as raised tactile numbers or letters. These markings should preferably be located beside rather than on the buttons, in case someone trying to read the information by touch accidentally presses the wrong button. Tactile markings should be located at a height of between 900mm and 1200mm above floor level.
3. Audible announcements as well as visual signs should be used to identify which floor has been reached.
4. Lift doors should be fitted with an adequate time delay mechanism. There should be a button outside the lift, as well as one inside, to hold the doors open, and another button (both inside and outside) to over-ride the time delay and close the lift doors.
5. Where necessary, tactile surface change underfoot should be provided at the approach to lifts. (Ref. Guidance on the Use of Tactile Surfaces)
6. Lift car should be well illuminated, and the lighting level should be constant with lobby area as many people with impaired vision have problems adjusting to changes in lighting levels.
1. A good standard of daylight should be provided.
2. The lighting level throughout a building during the day and at night should remain relatively constant.
3. The position of lights should be given special consideration as, for example, lights at eye level can be dazzling, even painful, for people with particular eye conditions.
4. Extra lighting may be used to accentuate stairs, handrails, signs, phones, and decision-making points, but otherwise lighting levels should be uniform throughout the building.
5. When using lighting, always avoid creating dazzle and glare. Adjust the angle of lights, and use shades, to direct the beam of light away from the eye.
6. Artificial lighting should be located in such a way as to avoid shadows or silhouettes.
7. Matt-finished rather than shiny surfaces on walls, doors, door furniture, handrails and floors can also help to prevent glare.
1. Windows should be positioned both horizontally and vertically to maximise light and minimise glare. Glare may be reduced with blinds, curtains or smoked glass.
2. Controls and locking devices should be easy to locate, identify, and use.
Colour and tonal contrast
1. Light colours, or lighter tones of the same colour, should be used to contrast with dark colours, or darker tones of the same colour.
2. Colours which are perceived as distinctly different from each other by people with unimpaired vision are not necessarily distinguishable from each other by people with certain types of vision impairments. For example, a mid-range red and a mid-range green may look the same to someone who has a vision impairment, although they are different colours. On the other hand, a very light, pale green forms a very good contrast with a deep bottle green, and these are more easily distinguishable even though they are both shades of the same colour rather than different colours. This is called ‘tonal contrast’. (Ref. Effective Color Contrast)
3. Lighter-colour decoration for walls and ceilings reflects more light into a room, which is usually helpful.
4. Doors, floors and furniture should be in darker shades, contrasting with the walls.
5. The use of plain colours and matt finishes helps to prevent dazzle, reflection and glare.
6. Contrasting colours or tones should be used to highlight furniture, fixtures and hazards.
7. Good colour contrast can aid in the location of emergency exits.
8. Thought should be given to the location of mirrors, to help prevent confusion.
1. The design of toilet facilities should incorporate ease of use for all people and location of fittings should follow a logical sequence.
2. Doors should be positioned so as not to constitute a hazard.
3. Edges on vanity units and hand basins should be rounded.
4. Tactile signs should be used beside rather than on doors to indicate ‘Ladies’ or ‘Gents’.
5. Hot and cold water taps should be identifiable by both colour and tactile markings.
6. Bowl urinals are preferable to slab urinals.
7. Be careful about placement of mirrors and lights to avoid confusion and dazzling.
8. Avoid using the same colour everywhere – white basins and white tiles, etc. See section on ‘Colour and Tonal Contrast’ above.
9. Place soap dispensers and hand towels or driers in a convenient and logical position. They should be easy to locate, identify and use.
10. If facilities are provided such as buttons on the floor or taps which operate by use of sensors, provide accessible signage which explains this. (Ref: Sign Design Guide, or find out more about accessible signage “here”/information-for/architects-engineers/recommendations-for-signage).
1. A tactile map or tape indicating exits, toilets and facilities within a building should be provided at reception. The tactile map should be of a reasonable scale, with key, and displayed in a prominent position at hand reach.
Signage should be placed where it is easy to read, without creating a hazard.
2. Other signage should be placed at a height which will avoid hazard while taking into consideration view point and ease of reading.
3. Legibility should be ensured by using clear font type (for example, Arial) and contrasting background. The usual mixture of upper and lower case letters facilitates word recognition. Block capitals should be avoided.
4. Signs should be illuminated at night.
5. The easiest access route for all people should be clearly signposted.
6. Find out more about accessible signage, and a list of tactile and colour or tonal contrasting signage providers.
1. Circulation routes should be well defined and clear of obstacles at all times.
2. Essential items such as fire extinguishers and telephones should be recessed. Display stands or other obstacles, if necessary, should be sturdy, extend to floor level to be detectable by a cane and of contrasting colour or tone to the walls and floor.
3. Handrails may be used to give directional guidance. (Ref: Part M of the Building Regulations for handrail specifications)
4. All glass panels, mirrors etc. which are not easily identifiable in circulation areas must be clearly marked to avoid hazard, confusion or disorientation.
5. Mats and other loose floor coverings must be avoided. Inset matting should be used at entrances, to prevent floors becoming slippery on wet days, as people come in with wet shoes.
6. Seating should have rounded corners and edges. Seating should be easily accessible, have a permanent position and should not obstruct the main circulation area. Seating facing away from the window is preferable for people with vision impairments.
7. The use of low-level tables (below knee height) should be avoided.
Guide dogs must be admitted to all venues with their owners.
Use of tactile surfaces indoors
Concern has been raised about the advisability of using tactile hazard warning surfaces indoors, which were actually designed to be used outdoors.
Because of the expectation of smooth, even surfaces underfoot indoors, people are more likely to trip when encountering an uneven surface. Concrete and granite, as well as resin-based tiles, are not materials normally used indoors and do not combine well with other more standard flooring surfaces. However, these are the materials used in the production of tactile paving.
It is also possible to get hazard warning tactile paving in rubber, but the change in slip-resistance between rubber and other flooring surfaces means that it can cause tripping, even apart from the possibility of tripping on the ridges themselves.
Until suitable hazard warning surfaces (or other warning methods) are developed for indoor use, warning of stairs may be provided by the intelligent use of more usual flooring materials.
For example, a change from wood to carpet could be used to indicate the approach to stairs, while a ‘guiding strip’ could be a pathway of tiles set into a vinyl floor.
It is important that the joints between one surface and another should always be as smooth and flat as possible, to avoid causing a trip hazard.
It is also important that the meaning of the changes of surface are uniform throughout any one building (although they may of course be different from one building to another).
Information about the use of changes of flooring surfaces within the building should be available in accessible formats at Reception.
Building Regulations – Technical Guidance Document M (latest edition) and Technical Guidance Document K (latest edition) is available from the Government Publications Office.
Building for Everyone is available from the National Disability Authority.
Building Sight is available from the RNIB’s Joint Mobility Unit.
Sign Design Guide is available from the RNIB’s Joint Mobility Unit.
Guidance on the Use of Tactile Paving Surfaces produced by the Scottish DETR.
Lighting and Low Vision is available from the Partially Sighted Society, Midlands Office, Breaston, Derby, DE7 3UE, UK.
Effective Color Contrast: Designing for People With Partial Sight and Color Deficiencies is available from Lighthouse International.
Steps & Stairs is available from NCBI on LoCall 1850 33 43 53