Tactile Wayfinding in Transportation Settings for Travelers Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

Tactile walking surface indicators (TWSIs) are typically comprised of attention fields [truncated domes—referred to in the United States as detectable warning surfaces (DWS)] and guiding patterns of raised parallel bars. The truncated domes and guiding patterns are combined to define paths of travel in pedestrian areas, including public rights-of-way and multimodal transportation facilities. Many countries make extensive use of TWSIs and some have adopted standards requiring them to aid wayfinding for travelers who are visually impaired. There is increasing recognition in the United States that tactile guiding patterns may be an effective solution to wayfinding problems for visually impaired travelers where there are insufficient cues in the built environment for effective wayfinding. Examples are rail and transit stations and hubs; intermodal terminals; plazas; irregular and confusing intersections such as roundabouts and channelized turn lanes; alternative intersections; shared streets; and parallel pedestrian/cycle paths at the same level. A number of U.S. and Canadian jurisdictions and transit authorities have begun to explore or to install guiding patterns and truncated domes. These include Caltrans; Los Angeles METRO; BART, VTA, and Samtrans in the San Francisco Bay Area; New York DOT; DC DOT; Sound Transit (Seattle); Minneapolis/St. Paul Region; Cambridge, MA; TransLink (Vancouver, BC); and Alexandria, VA. While most of these guiding pattern installations are raised bar surfaces, there is great variation in the installation and materials, including the width and height (detectability) of the guiding pattern and where it is located. Participants in trials have found that some of the surfaces used at shared streets and shared pedestrian/cycle paths are not detectable or provide poor cues for wayfinding. Consistency in cues for wayfinding is extremely important to travelers who are blind or visually impaired in order for them to understand the message of such cues and because they are unable to use many other cues available to travelers with unimpaired vision. TWSIs, including both attention patterns (DWS) and guidance patterns (raised bars) are loosely standardized on the basis of then-existing research and practice in ISO 23599 Assistive Products for Blind and Vision-Impaired Persons–Tactile Walking Surface Indicators (2012).The only systematic use of TWSIs in the United States is DWS, which is required at transit platform edges, curb ramps, and other locations where there is no distinction in level between pedestrian and vehicular ways. Standards ensuring consistency for the surface texture and some consistency in the installation of DWS in the United States are contained in the 2006 Standards for Transportation Facilities and the 2010 Americans with Disabilities Act Standards. Similar consistency is needed in the surface textures and installation of guiding patterns. Research-based guidelines for TWSIs in the United States are urgently needed to enable transportation infrastructure designers, owners, and operators to provide travelers who are blind or visually impaired reliable to ways to find their way in transportation settings including: (1) Rail and transit stations and hubs, and intermodal terminals, including approaches to the facilities, concourses, mezzanines, and boarding platforms; (2) Fare machines, turnstiles, emergency and information telephones, and places of refuge; (3) Intersections and changes in the direction of travel indicated by guidance surfaces in stations or in street crossings; (4) Shared streets, plazas, parking facilities, and other open spaces; (5) Sidewalk-level separated bike lanes without a continuous sidewalk buffer; (6) Crossings that are hard to locate using non-visual cues, such as at mid-block crossings, roundabouts, and channelized turn lanes; (7) Intersections where the curb ramps are not aligned with the crosswalks; (8) Complex or alternative intersections; and (9) Cold/adverse weather climates, including areas with snow and ice. The objective of this research is to produce guidance for transportation planners, engineers, and orientation and mobility specialists that will provide for consistency in the design, installation, and usability of TWSIs in multimodal transportation in the United States. There will be two products: (1) A Guide to Tactile Wayfinding in Transportation Settings for Travelers Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired, and (2) a final report that includes a review of U.S. and international research and practice, as well as the methods and results of human factors research conducted under this project. Guidance resulting from this research should be appropriate for private entities, as well as the following bulleted entities seeking to provide wayfinding cues to improve the accessibility of their transportation networks: State, local, tribal, and territorial agencies, including rail, transit, and highway agencies, public works departments, ferries, and airports, and parks and recreation departments. It may also form the basis for recommended practices for consideration by the American Public Transportation Association, Institute of Transportation Engineers, National Association of City Transportation Officials, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, or others.


  • English


  • Status: Active
  • Funding: $600000
  • Contract Numbers:

    Project B-46

  • Sponsor Organizations:

    Transit Cooperative Research Program

    Transportation Research Board
    500 Fifth Street, NW
    Washington, DC    20001

    Federal Transit Administration

    1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
    Washington, DC  United States  20590
  • Project Managers:

    Parker, Stephan

  • Performing Organizations:

    University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

    Chapel Hill, NC  United States  27514
  • Principal Investigators:

    O'Brien, Sarah

  • Start Date: 20190226
  • Expected Completion Date: 20230731
  • Actual Completion Date: 0

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01667910
  • Record Type: Research project
  • Source Agency: Transportation Research Board
  • Contract Numbers: Project B-46
  • Files: TRB, RIP
  • Created Date: May 1 2018 10:40AM