Inclusive Urban Design
21 March 2019
City dwellers are no doubt accustomed to seeing the colored strips with the Lego block-like pattern that line the platforms of public trains. For people without vision impairments, these strips serve as a gentle reminder to remain a safe distance away from the edge of the platform until the train arrives. For those who are visually impaired, however, these strips make it possible to safely use public transportation.
Tactile blocks, or Tenji blocks, were created by Japanese inventor Seiichi Miyake. He developed the idea after a close friend began to lose his vision. The blocks alert those with visual impairments of dangerous areas by being placed at the edge of crosswalks and railway platforms. The bumps on the blocks can be detected through shoes, with a support cane or by trained guide dogs. They were first introduced in 1967 in the Japanese city of Okayama, when they were installed on a street next to a school for the blind. By 1984, the Japanese Ministry of Construction made the inclusion of tactile blocks mandatory for all transportation terminals and public streets.
Tactile blocks have revolutionized the way those who are visually impaired interact with urban environments around the world. The most common block pattern is raised dots, which act as a “stop sign” for the visually impaired. Chicago public transportation users will find these dotted blocks along the edges of most CTA and Metra platforms. Another block pattern is a series of vertical bars, which indicates a safe path and helps guide pedestrians through the environment. Tenji blocks are also used at the entry points for bicycle lanes, adjacent to flights of stairs, to guide pedestrian traffic and to indicate bus stops.
Since 1984, countries around the world have implemented laws making Tenji blocks mandatory at crosswalks and train platforms; in the U.S., the legislation was included in our Americans with Disabilities Act. On March 18 2019, 52 years to the day after the first Tenji blocks were installed, Google paid respect to the legacy of the inventor (who passed away at the age of 56 in 1982) by creating a Google Doodle featuring the Google logo spelled out in the dots of the blocks. Thanks to this marvelous innovation, 1000M residents will have Miyake to thank for making it safer and easier to navigate the Chicago streets and transit.