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Tactile Solutions for Accessibility: A Comprehensive Guide

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Tactile Solutions for Accessibility: A Comprehensive Guide

Tactile solutions are nothing less than a boon for people with vision loss. These promise accessibility and create accessible environments for people with vision loss. Simultaneously, understanding the proper use of tactile is extremely crucial.


Over 3% of Canadians aged 15 years and older, approximately 750,000 people, have disabilities that limit their daily activities. As per the 2012 Canadian Survey on Disability (CSD), 5.8% of the people under this age group are legally blind.


Considering such several visually challenged populations, it becomes extremely crucial to implement code-compliant tactile solutions for accessibility in public spaces.


This guide aims to cover the nitty-gritty of the setting tactile solutions and how these create accessible space for people with vision loss.


The Design Basics


Designing a tactile solution holds the utmost importance. The designers must consider four basic elements while designing an accessible environment for people with vision loss. Let’s discuss each.




It is extremely important to logically design public spaces such as street networks, transit facilities, stores, and shopping areas. Why? Doing so helps visually challenged people memorize the space and get familiar with it quickly and easily. Use a consistent, logical, and easy layout for the exterior and interior of any planned setting.




Lighting is one of the essential guiding factors for visually challenged people. Lighting kinds, styles, and locations are determined for employing lighting to aid in wayfinding and orientation.


Colour or Brightness Contrast


The concept of colour and brightness contrast is vital in making environments safer and more usable for everyone, greatly impacting many elements within a constructed environment. Colour contrast should be employed between travel pathways and neighbouring ground surfaces.


Tactile Walking Surface Indicators (TWSIs)


TWSIs, also known as detectable warning surfaces or tactile attention indicators, are standardized walking surfaces that provide information to those blind or visually impaired through texture and, in some cases, sound.


They are often created using inserts like metal, rubber, stone, or plastic or can be built directly into concrete ground surfaces. TWSIs should have a texture that is detectable with a long cane and can be felt underfoot. To reduce the possibility of tripping, their edges should be bevelled.


Some Guidelines about TWSIs


  • TWSIs should be coloured differently from the surrounding walking surface. Safety yellow is the perfect colour for attention TWSIs.
  • TWSIs should have bevelled edges when fitted as pre-manufactured panels or surface-mounted into an existing ground or floor surface.
  • The TWSI panels’ base surface should be no more than three millimetres above the existing surface.


Types of TWSIs


Attention Tactile Walking Surface Indicators


Sometimes referred to as warning TWSIs, TWSIs draw attention to critical hazards such as the staircase’s beginning or the platform’s edge. Attention TWSIs should be circular, flat-topped, truncated domes or cones on a walking surface.


Let’s understand the specifications of attention TWSIs -


  • Flat-topped truncated domes or cones, organized in a square grid pattern, parallel or diagonal at 45 degrees to the main direction of movement, should be employed.
  • The flat-topped domes or cones should be four to five mm tall. A minimum height of four millimetres is desirable in indoor situations with particularly smooth surfaces, such as polished concrete or terrazzo.
  • The top diameter of flat-topped domes or cones should be between 12 and 25 mm.
  • The lower base of the flat-topped domes or cones should be 10 mm (+/- 1 mm) larger than the top diameter.


Attention TWSIs are Applied to?

  • Platform edges
  • Ferry dock edges
  • Edges of reflecting pools and fountains unprotected at ground level
  • Tops of stairs, at landings where there is a door leading onto the landing
  • At landings longer than 2,100 mm where there are no continuous handrails
  • Both sides of ground-level railway crossings
  • Curb ramps and depressed curbs
  • Unprotected edges with a drop-off greater than 250 mm in height
  • Entry points to vehicular routes where no curb or other element separates pedestrians from vehicles
  • At the beginning of ground-level moving walkways (e.g., used in airport terminals)


Guidance Tactile Walking Surface Indicators


TWSIs for guidance should comprise a pattern of parallel, flat-topped, elongated bars extending in the direction of movement.


Let’s check out the specification for guidance TWSIs -

  • Where installed to define a route, their width should be 250 – 300 mm.
  • Where installed across a route as an indicator of an amenity or diverging route, their width should be 600 – 650 mm.
  • They should have a minimum continuous clearance of 600 mm on both sides.
  • The height of the bars should be four to five millimetres.
  • The top of the flat-topped elongated bars must have a width between 17 and 30 mm.
  • The bars should be colour contrasted with surrounding surfaces to make them easily identifiable by people with low vision.
  • The width of the base of the bars must be 10 mm (+/- 1 mm) wider than the top.
  • The top length of the bars should be at least 270 mm. If drainage is a concern, a space of 10 – 30 mm should be provided at the ends of the bars.


Guidance TWSIs are Applied to?


  • Transit stops
  • Train stations
  • Subway or light rail transit (LRT) platforms
  • Airports
  • Sports arenas and stadiums
  • Large open spaces (e.g., public squares)
  • In the door areas of expansive open areas (e.g., shopping malls)


TWSIs used on road surfaces differ from guide surfaces in pedestrian zones. TWSIs placed on road surfaces at pedestrian crossings should -


  • Be configured as a straight path
  • Be 250mm - 300mm wide
  • Be detectable underfoot
  • Be detectable with a long cane
  • Be at least 50% colour/brightness contrasted with adjacent road surfaces
  • Not present a tripping hazard
  • Not present a barrier for persons who use wheelchairs or other types of mobility devices
  • Be configured to mitigate damage from snow-plowing


Ending Note


The tactile solutions covered in this guide are obtained from multiple sources like National Building Code of Canada, CAN/CSA B651 Accessible design for the built environment, ISO/FDIS 21542 Building Construction – Accessibility & usability of the built environment and ISO 23599 – Assistive products for blind and vision-impaired persons.