CABE - People with low vision need less confusing streets

7 Oct 2010 03:56 PM

Design plays a big role in giving people with low vision the confidence to use streets and public spaces. But a new study funded by CABE has found that some features which should help people with low vision are hindering them instead. 

Sight Line: designing better streets for people with low vision investigated how eight blind and partially sighted people navigate their local streets.

Local authorities use blister paving differently, even in adjacent boroughs, to demarcate the pavement edge at both controlled and uncontrolled crossings. The study argues for national guidance to be clearer and for local authorities to coordinate across boundaries.

Author Ross Atkin, a research associate at the Helen Hamlyn Centre at the Royal College of Art, also interviewed local authority designers and researchers from across the country. He has developed a practical new mapping technique to communicate how three different groups (residual sight users, long cane users and guide dog users) use a combination of sound, touch, and memory to get around safely.

The report includes design briefs for products that would make streets easier to navigate independently. These include road work barriers, new road surfaces to augment traffic sounds and tactile signs to attach to street furniture.

Improving street design is critically important because it makes blind and partially sighted people feel more confident outdoors. This reduces their isolation. One third of people find the most difficult thing about losing their sight is the way it affects getting out and about, and nearly half have contact with someone outside their home less than once a week.

The user-centric approach of the study was welcomed by the people who took part. Sandi Wassmer is registered blind with some residual vision and points out, ‘The users are the experts, after all.’

Findings from the study are on display at the RCA as part of the London Design Festival until 7 October.