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- Ways to Use Indoor Floor Surfaces to Assist People With Sight Loss
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Summary: Find out more about ways to use standard floor materials to provide warning, orientation clues and methods of wayfinding.
Generally, people with vision impairments use the same kinds of floor surfaces as anyone else, with individual preferences for carpet, lino, wood, etc. However, there are some instances where different floor surfaces can be used to provide warnings, orientation clues, or methods of wayfinding.
The main problems for people who have no vision are:
- wide open spaces, which can cause orientation problems;
- obstacles and hazards such as fire extinguishers or telephone cubicles jutting out from walls at head height and sharp cornered furniture along circulation routes within buildings; and
- stairs and other drops underfoot, which do not have an advance tactile warning in place.
While the other obstacles can and should be removed or recessed, stairs are a necessary feature and must be accessible.
Approaching a stairs
In order to make people with vision impairments aware that they are approaching stairs, it is very helpful to have a change of surface starting 400mm from the top and bottom of a flight of stairs. The change of surface should be laid the full width of the stairs or corridor, for a distance of 800mm, if the stairs are on the direct line of travel of someone walking along a corridor. If it is necessary to make a conscious turn to find the stairs, the change of surface need only be laid for a distance of 400mm.
Changes of surface should be achieved without causing a trip hazard: no large jutting-up connecting strip between one surface and the other, and no major change in slip-resistance, for example rubber following wood.
The change of surface should be easy to distinguish, for instance from carpet to vinyl, or from tiling to wood. The change of surface should also include a change of colour, using good tonal contrast, so that people with some useful vision can see the change – for example, black against white, or navy against yellow. Strong yellow (such as that used in road signs and for double yellow lines) is most easily seen by the greatest number of individuals with or without vision impairment – but not if it is against a background which tones in with the yellow colour.
Wide open spaces
It is often helpful to lay a track of a different kind of surface across a large open space – called a guiding track – to direct a person who is vision impaired to where he or she is likely to want to go. For instance, if there is a wide open spacious lobby area, with lifts and stairs to one side and a desk straight ahead, one guiding track could be laid to the desk and another to the lifts and stairs.
The important thing to remember when laying surfaces in a building is uniformity of meaning. The same surface should always be used for the same purpose, throughout the building. If a surface is being used to warn of stairs ahead, then it should not be used for any other purpose within that building.
A surface which is used as a guiding track should not be of the same or similar material as the surface used as a warning of stairs ahead.
In corridors, lobby areas and stairs, there should be uniformity of use of specific surfaces. That way, a person with vision impairment who encounters a specific surface change (e.g. from vinyl to wood) knows that he or she is coming to a flight of stairs, and will slow down, find a wall and a handrail, and be ready to walking up or down the stairs.
If vinyl-to-wood means one thing on one floor and something else on another floor, then surface changes become meaningless and/or confusing.
Ask the opinion of people with vision impairment
The views of the people with vision impairments who will be using the building should always be sought. If in doubt about whether or not the difference between one surface and another is distinguishable to a person with vision impairment, ask for a few different people with vision impairments to try them out and give feedback.
For more information about floor surfaces contact NCBI on LoCall 1850 33 43 53.