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Tactile paving is a type of outdoor flooring that utilizes a raised texture to help guide and inform visually impaired pedestrians of their surroundings. The most common and easily distinguishable shape is the raised blister, sometimes called a truncated dome. Tactile pavement was first used in Japan in the 1960s to warn blind and visually impaired pedestrians of potential dangers, such as the edge of a street or train platform. The raised texture of the paving is detectable with a walking cane or foot, thereby warning of a change in surroundings in a non-visual manner. Bright and high-contrast color is also integrated into tactile system so that it can be easily detected by pedestrians with low or limited vision.
There is a limited number of tactile patterns that can be distinguished by touch, and most countries utilize between two and six different shapes. The raised blister or truncated dome is commonly used at the point where the sidewalk crosses a street; however, the arrangement of the blisters — zigzag or parallel — has different meanings in different countries. Closely spaced bars, also referred to as the corduroy pattern, often warns the pedestrian when they are approaching the edge of a train station platform. The size, spacing and direction of the bars also carry their own meanings which vary by location, but generally help a visually impaired person orient themselves directionally to a street or pathway. A lozenge shape is also utilized in a few countries, most notably the United Kingdom.
The use of bright colors such as red, yellow, and white for tactile flooring is another way to alert a person with low or limited vision of a potential hazard or change in surroundings. In the United Kingdom, where tactile paving is highly standardized and regulated, red is reserved for controlled intersections only. In uncontrolled intersections and in countries where tactile systems are less standardized, any color may be used to indicate a pedestrian crossing point. No matter what color is used, the goal is to obtain a sharp and easily detectable contrast between the tactile paving and the surrounding sidewalk and street. Some places utilize a high-contrast border around the tactile paving to achieve the same effect.
There has been some debate about the safety of tactile ground surfaces for people with limited mobility, such as those using canes, walkers and wheelchairs. The early generation of textures, particularly blisters, were tall and rounded; this made them slippery for wheelchairs to cross and presented a tripping hazard for people with unsteady gaits. The blister design has been made somewhat safer by flattening, or truncating, the top. As people with all types of disabilities become more mobile and the world becomes more accessible to them, tactile pavement design is continually refined and improved in response to their needs. Several countries are slowly developing more standardized meanings and regulations for their tactile paving systems, in order to reduce confusion and irregularities.