ISO standard widens travel horizons for the blind

by Elizabeth Gasiorowski-Denis on
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Signs are useful in providing information, identification and directions for travelers, but conventional signage is of little use to the blind or the visually impaired.

How can the same information be conveyed to the blind or the vision-impaired and how to ensure that the design and installation are identical from one country to the next?

To respond to these issues, ISO (International Organization for Standardization) has developed a standard giving specifications for tactile walking surface indicators (TWSIs) and recommendations for their installation. Now, for the first time, a common approach for TWSIs is available at the international level.

TWSIs are installed in public facilities, buildings used by many people, railway stations and on sidewalks and other walking surfaces. They are identified by raised tactile profiles and visual contrast to the surrounding or adjacent surface. TWSIs are detected by the blind or vision- impaired persons through the soles of their shoes and/or by a long white cane, and by the residual vision.

ISO 23599:2012, Assistive products for blind and vision-impaired persons – Tactile walking surface indicators, aims to improve understanding and proper application of TWSIs designed to enable the blind or vision-impaired persons to travel safely and independently

Mr. Shigeru Yamauchi, leader of the group of experts that developed the standard comments: “TWSIs are one of the most important devices for the blind and people with vision impairments for way finding and walking independently. The new ISO standard, which is based on science, technology and experience, will be used by countries around the world when installing and updating TWSIs according to the world’s best practice.”

ISO 23599 highlights two types of TWIS: attention patterns and guiding patterns. Both types can be used indoors and outdoors where there are insufficient cues for finding one's way, or at specific hazards.

Attention patterns may be installed in the vicinity of pedestrian crossings, curbs, railway platforms, stairs, ramps, escalators, travelators, elevators, etc. Guiding patterns may be used alone or in combination with attention patters in order to indicate the walking route from one place to another.

“My sincere thanks to the experts of working group WG 8 that, through their perseverance, made this standard a reality,” further noted Mr. Yamauchi. “We strongly hope ISO 23599 will be of great use and support to the blind or to those who have low vision to travel safely and independently like the rest of the non-disabled population.”

ISO 23599:2012, Assistive products for blind and vision-impaired persons – Tactile walking surface indicators, was developed by ISO technical committee ISO/TC173, Assistive products for persons with disability, working group WG 8, Tactile walking surface indicators. It costs 140 Swiss francs and is also available from ISO national member institutes (see the complete list with contact details) and from ISO Central Secretariat through the ISO Store or by contacting the Marketing & Communication department.