Most people have seen tactile ground surface indicators (TGSI’s) in action, but unless you are vision impaired you may not realise just how important they really are. These products assist visually impaired pedestrians in avoiding hazards and enjoying confident, independent mobility within the urban environment. TGSI’s are offered in two main types: Warning (dots) which indicate the presence of hazards, and Directional (bars) which help provide orientation guidance along a continuous accessible path of travel.

The following standards provide everything you need to know about where, when and how TGSI’s should be installed:

  • Australian Standards (AS 1428.1-2009| Design for Access and Mobility)
  • The National Construction Code/Building Code of Australia
  • The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA)

This article will look at five places that MUST have tactiles installed, as well as highlighting the need for quality installations to ensure the products do their job exactly as intended.

  1. Stairways

Stairs are everywhere – from the entrance to the train station through to shops, lobbies, office buildings, shopping centres and many other places we interact with daily. People with full sight have no trouble recognising them, but to the vision impaired these structures can pose significant danger. The vision impaired experience twice as many falls as fully able individuals, and to reduce their level of risk the hazards need to be clearly identified. This is particularly important on stairs which have irregular steps or lack handrails.

NOTE: TGSI’s are not generally required on intermediate landings when stairways are equipped with handrails on both sides that extend the full length without any breaks. The handrails are another crucial aid to the vision impaired, and they will rely on these to indicate the beginning and end of the stairway. If there is a break in the handrail, or if another path leads into the landing, TGSI’s should be applied.

  1. Escalators

Many vision impaired people rely on escalators for their convenient conveyance between floors. As moving structures, it is important that all pedestrians can clearly determine where the escalator begins and ends.

  1. Passenger conveyor/moving walk

Commonly found in airports and large public facilities, conveyor belts/moving walks significantly reduce the level of effort required to walk long distances. They are generally very safe, as they feature a flat surface and have handrails on either side. However, for the vision impaired, it is imperative that they know they are about to approach a moving conveyor, as they could otherwise be at risk of injury or shock.

  1. Ramps

Sudden change in incline can be quite disconcerting to the vision impaired. Ramps or stairs with an approach of 3 metres or greater must have tactiles installed at a minimum depth of 600mm. Ramps or stairs with an approach of less than 3 metres can have tactiles installed at a depth of 300mm.

  1. Areas which lack suitable barriers

Sometimes hazards are not protected by railings or other suitable barriers, and this could include everything from overhead pipes through to open spaces with shared vehicle/pedestrian access at the same gradient, public phones and ferry/train platforms. In areas which lack suitable barriers, tactiles must be installed if there are any overhead hazards less than 2 metres above ground/floor level, and this is specified within section D3.8 of the Building Code of Australia.

Importance of Proper Installation

The visually impaired expect and deserve consistent and reliable feedback from tactiles. Australia has an aging population, and the 65 and over age group is set to more than double over the next 25 years. Many of these people will experience a degree of vision impairment and need to rely on products such as tactiles for safe, independent mobility.

Tactiles are designed to be felt under feet and with the tip of a cane, but those who still retain some degree of sight can also visualise the light contrast between the floor surface and the colour of the TGSI’s – so meeting the minimum standard for luminance contrast as well as layout requirements is highly important. Pride in workmanship and a collective effort to ensure standards are upheld across the country will go a long way in ensuring that public spaces remain accessible to the wider community both now and into the future.

TGSI’s should ALWAYS be installed at the top and bottom of all places discussed above. When installed in line with Australian Standards, they provide the visually impaired with adequate warning that they are about to approach a hazard, allowing them plenty of time to prepare for safe ascent/descent and avoid danger.

Australian Standards and Future Proofing Public Spaces

There should be no reason for premature product failures or substandard applications of tactiles. It is important to provide the following information to assist builders, developers, architects and building surveyors in recognising the importance of carrying out high-quality installations of TGSI’s.

You should keep in mind that Australian Standards require tactiles to be installed:

  • 300mm +/-10mm setback across the full path of travel at a minimum depth of 600mm. NOTE: Some special situations such as train platforms and ferry wharves require a 600mm setback due to the significant danger of falls.
  • In a consistent grid pattern as specified in AS/NZS 1428.4.1:2009
  • With a minimum luminance contrast value of 30%

You should also consider the following when specifying a product:

  • Method of application – We would wholeheartedly recommend the use of mechanical fixing to the surface as opposed to adhesive, as this will last much longer and will offer more reliable performance.
  • Materials – The most durable tactiles are made from stainless steel, aluminium, ceramic, and high-quality rubbers or plastics.
  • Slip Resistance and UV Protection – Some tactiles have the added benefit of slip resistance, which benefits everyone. It is always best to opt for a product with proven slip resistance and UV protection qualities.
  • Take your time – All too often we come across tactiles which have been poorly laid out in a haphazard manner. Indeed, the standards themselves state that visually impaired people may, “become disoriented if presented with an unpredictable, incorrect, incomplete or over-supplied set of indicators”.

Safer Cities for All

We’ve all seen tactiles before, but we hope this article has helped you to understand a little more about their purpose for the visually impaired community and the need for quality implementation.

Story by Classic Architectural Group.