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The Importance of Tactile Warning Surfaces

Tactile warning surfaces play an important role in creating an environment where those with visual impairments can navigate independently.  Streets, intersections, and public transportation facilities are all potentially hazardous for those who have little or no vision.  Fortunately, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) now requires that these detectable warning surfaces be installed in certain public locations.

What is a Tactile Warning Surface?

These surfaces, also known as detectable warning surfaces, are applied to walking surfaces to warn of potential hazards for those with visual impairments.  For a visually impaired person, these serve a similar function as a stop sign by alerting them of a hazardous presence in their line of travel.   These warning surfaces come in a variety of forms including:

  • Cast In Place Tactile Surface – These are used for new construction or on new curb ramps and are pressed into freshly poured concrete. They are designed to last through any type of weather and work very well for long-term projects.
  • Cast In Place Replaceable Tactile Pavers – Similar to Cast In Place Tactile Surfaces, these are also used on new curb ramps or for new construction.  They can be pressed into concrete that has been freshly poured and come in both rectangular and radius shapes.  This type can be easily replaced when needed.
  • Surface Applied Detectable Warning Systems – These are typically applied in retrofit situations. They fit over existing concrete and can be fitted in about 10 minutes.  They also come in both rectangular and radius shapes.

All of these warning surfaces are designed to be compliant with the American Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG).

Where Are Tactile Warning Surfaces Required?

According to rulings by the U.S. Department of Justice, the Access Board, and the Department of Transportation, specific places and facilities must have detectable warning surfaces in place.  These include:

  • Public Transportation Facilities – Locations such as subway stations, bus stations, and train stations are all required to have a tactile warning surface on curb ramps that provide street access as well as all areas bordering tracks that are not already blocked by another type of physical barrier.
  • Vehicle Ways – Any interface between a public walkway and street, intersection, curb ramp, roundabout, pedestrian railway crossing, or blended transition is required to have detectable warning surfaces in place.
  • Reflecting Pools and Other Water Features – These must have detectable warning surfaces if they do not already have some form of barrier between them and the footpath.

While these may often go unnoticed by pedestrians who have clear vision, a tactile warning surface plays a crucial role in the independence of a visually impaired person who is navigating their environment.

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