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When vision is impaired it affects people's mobility in different ways. This  has important implications for design in general and for accessibility in particular. A person with impaired vision may not be able to see the ground at his or her feet, detect hazards on the footpath, look ahead in his or her direction of travel, or recognise steps and changes in the ground level.

Accessibility and Universal Design

Guide dogs client with cane, on footpath

Accessibility often refers to the design of products, devices, services, or environments for people with a disability. The concept of accessible design incorporates both “direct access” (i.e. unassisted) and "indirect access" where a person can use assistive technology (e.g. screen readers) to access mainstream information.

Accessibility also has a strong relationship with the concept of ‘universal design’ - the process of creating products and environments that are usable by people with the widest possible range of abilities, operating within the widest possible range of situations. This concept promotes that all things and places should be accessible to all people - whether they have a disability or not.

Guide Dogs NSW/ACT and Good Design

Guide Dogs NSW/ACT believes that good environmental design benefits the community as a whole, not just those with vision impairment. Good design uses natural features and materials without modifying the environment unnecessarily. This consistency of design assists people with vision impairment to be safe and independent when negotiating their way around the community.

Effective design and construction can significantly improve access, so that all pedestrians may travel more safely and more independently. Considering design features at the outset is important as it can eliminate the need for expensive modifications at a later date.

Access Advice Service

Guide Dogs NSW/ACT regularly deals with individual requests that come from people with vision impairment and assists them in addressing their access issues or problems in their community. In situations where the person has not been successful in resolving the issue alone, Guide Dogs NSW/ACT will help advocate on their behalf.

Guide Dogs NSW/ACT also deals with access requests from Councils, Architects, Access Consultants and Transport providers. We are approached for help with interpreting the functional implications of the requirements – or for advice on ‘best practice’ where no Codes or Standards exist (e.g. in the outdoor domain).

Guide Dogs NSW/ACT regularly provides advice on good design features that benefit people with impaired vision. Aspects to be addressed include:
Road crossings –Poorly designed or constructed road crossings are the single most hazardous aspect in the built environment for people who have impaired vision.

A continuous, accessible path of travel – Obstacles placed on the footpath can pose a serious threat to people who are blind or have impaired vision. An accessible path of travel makes moving around much easier and safer.

Contrast – For people who have impaired vision, contrast clues are useful for independent travel and for detecting potential hazards. Contrast exists in different forms with the main types relating to colour, texture and luminance.

Lighting – People who have impaired vision often have very different functional needs for lighting. While some people need lots of light to see clearly, others require lower light levels because they are particularly sensitive to glare.

Stairs – Unexpected "drop-offs" are among the biggest fears of people who have impaired vision. The drop can be a step, stair or platform edge at a railway station. Effective design and construction will assist people to negotiate stairs and other drop-offs safely and independently.

Signage – Many people who have impaired vision have some residual vision – some are able to read print signage, however many are not. It is therefore necessary, to provide alternatives to signage to ensure effective communication. These may include tactile symbols, verbal announcements or one-on-one assistance to identify or get to a specific location.

Hazard minimisation – People with vision impairment often encounter hazards and obstacles as they travel through the environment. Simple design solutions that minimise hazards will benefit the entire community.

Tactile indicators or tactile ground surface indicators (TGSI’s) – Tactile ground surface indicators (TGSI’s) are raised domes and stripes placed in patterns on the ground to provide tactile information. Their colour and luminance contrast provides information to people with vision impairment about hazards and directions. Guide Dog can provide advice on the use and placement of TGSI’s.

To find out more about access issues for people with vision impairment and how you can improve environmental design, contact our Community Education Department on (02) 9412 9300