Post Title:   What are those Bumps at the End of the Sidewalk?

A “Hands-on” Teachable Moment.

A few years ago, when my great nieces were five and seven, I was walking with them around town at a local festival. The youngest asked me “What are those bumps at the end of the street?”

“Fiona, those are small road bumps to help me find the end of the sidewalk with my white cane. After the bumps, the road begins. That tells me I need to stop and listen for traffic and I won’t get hit by a car.”

I had an idea. Though it was the end of July, the late evening sun cooled the sidewalk and it presented an ideal teaching moment.

I paused. “Hey girls, let’s all feel the bumps. Close your eyes for a minute.”
They closed their eyes and felt the bumps, almost reverently.

“I studied bumps on paper. It’s called Braille. Different bumps stand for different letters. When I learned what letters of the alphabet the different bumps stood for, I could read without seeing. This is the same kind of thing. It’s like Braille for ….”

My older niece, Talia, jumped in “Like Braille for your feet!” She looked exuberant. Such a clever girl!

“Cool,” Fiona said. “Aunt Amy, how did you learn about those bumps?  Can you read ‘em on the street when you walk?”

“They’re a little bit different from the other Braille.” I slid her hands over the bumps. ”Feel how they form a rectangle but all the bumps have the same pattern?”

Talia, too, listened closely, smoothing her hands over the perimeter of the tactile rectangle. “Gosh, that’s really fun.” She stood up and brushed off her knees.

“Yes, and knowing where they are keeps me safe. Ready? Let’s go find your mommy.”

All smiles, we continued on our way.

I love that memory.

Tactile Clues.

road-crossing-with-tactile-bumpsIn my mobility training, I learned how to use these tactile clues as indicators that I was approaching a crossroads or oncoming traffic (or sometimes, stairs). I trained in the city and at every major intersection I found them before I prepared myself to cross hectic city streets.

Truncated domes, tactile (or hazard warning) pavement and, yes, even my explanation—braille for the feet—are just a few of the terms I have heard used in regard to the bumps that appear around the United States to help the vision-impaired and blind.

Since I don’t drive, I walk to and from my teaching job, and, in fact, all over town. I’m so grateful. We didn’t always have them. Shortly after my training in the city, they were implemented in my hometown. While street crossings aren’t anywhere as busy as they are in the city, I still appreciate the town council has installed them. Feeling the bumps with my cane reinforces my comfort and security. I don’t second-guess myself. Sweeping my cane across these tactile bump lets me know exactly where I am. I like having them in my neighborhood and on main streets.

As a vision-impaired pedestrian, recognizing tactile bumps with my white cane reassures me.

In my sight support groups, I have discovered even something as innocuous as pavement to help the blind has people lobbying against it. Some citizens speak out against tactile pavement, calling it ugly, a waste of money and even dangerous to the elderly. In addition, a comment was made, “How often do blind people go shopping?”

Unfortunately, these comments arise from a lack of education. Many vision-impaired people do go shopping. I go shopping all the time, many times, alone.  In Erie County (Pennsylvania) where I live, the population is 290,000 people. 15% of them are legally blind. That means 43,500 can benefit from using tactile pavement.

Color is vitally important. The brighter the color, the better the contrast and the easier it is to see it for those with residual vision.

Bright yellow is often used. Sometimes brick red is also used – but there is less contrast. I’ve even seen white. I suppose this can be helpful to those with night blindness. The contrast beside the concrete makes a big difference, especially if an individual doesn’t use any mobility aids– which I didn’t for years–though I should have.

Tactile pavement is not only used at street crossings, it can be used at the top and bottom of steps to indicate a hazard. This is especially helpful when a vision-impaired person enters or exits a large public building (i.e. the courthouse). Truncated lines are used at railway stations.

While cost is an issue, so is safety. It doesn’t do any good to cut on costs because it needs to be well-installed and maintained or then it creates a hazard. There are a number of issues brought up by those against implementing them in the city.

A Little History

Pioneers of tactile pavement began with the Japanese in 1965. (Yay! Another impressive invention from one of the countries where I lived).

By 1985, National Japan Railways (now Japan Railway) had them throughout. Nowadays, yellow tactile crosswalks are used throughout Japan. The United Kingdom and Australia followed suit. It wasn’t until the 1990s that the United States began to implement them.

The world is changing, becoming more aware of the needs of vision-impaired individuals. I belong to an international Sight Support group and I’ve heard members lament how slow change is to come to their part of the world. It’s only through education and resources that it will happen.

I love having this wonderful Braille for my feet, and living in a small town. While I know the Government Disabilities Act is behind the decision to install tactile pavement, I like to think that when the members of the borough see me out and about, they realize I’m not a statistic. I’m a real person who benefits. They knew my dad. They know my family. They can see their actions make a difference. I retain my mobility and independence, in part, because of these tactile aids.

What have you noticed about tactile pavement, its color, its efficiency or lack of it? Have you seen vision-impaired people using it? 

You have just read, “What Are those Bumps at the End of the Sidewalk?” by Amy L. Bovaird. © Amy Bovaird. May 28, 2019. All right Reserved.

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