This project proposes an accessible new system with physical and digital elements to make streetworks less disruptive to blind and partially sighted people.
Memory is an important navigational resource for blind and partially sighted people who rely on having predictability in the urban environment. However, temporary obstructions and diversions can easily disrupt a person's mental map and leave them disorientated. Streetworks are the largest and most significant cause of these disruptions.
The current system of pedestrian signs and barriers and the way they are deployed have changed very little since the New Roads and Streetworks Act in 1991. They usually perform the function of preventing people falling in holes during excavations. However they fail to effectively communicate to visually impaired people what is happening and what is expected of them as pedestrians. This project proposes changes to the design and deployment of this equipment to make it easier to understand for all street users, particularly those with visual impairments.
Background research included: a survey of 100 streetwork sites across London; a comprehensive review of relevant legislation, manuals and codes of practice; observational research with people with visual impairments as they negotiate streetworks; and operative training and shadowing of a streetworks crew.
Initial design concepts were prototyped, tested and evolved by a panel of visually impaired people as well as reviewed by Transport for London, the Department for Transport, The London Rehabilitation Officers Forum and streetworks operatives.
Testing a Prototype
A second design iteration was prototyped and tested by 13 visually impaired people with sight loss on Vauxhall Bridge Road in London and compared to existing streetworks; 85 per cent of participants found the physical parts of the new system useful and those with the lowest levels of vision found it most helpful.
The system has both physical and digital elements. The physical changes comprise a new pedestrian sign and retrofit tactile and graphic markings on the barriers. Together these provide a new tactile language, confirming to visually impaired pedestrians that they are on the correct side of the barriers, providing a safe line to follow and letting people know when they have reached the end of the works.
A digital application for smartphones allows operatives to log details of new streetworks when they set up the equipment. This also provides audio descriptions of works to blind and partially sighted pedestrians. Outputs have been captured in a film based on the user test as well as a specification document explaining the system, its benefits and operation. These are being disseminated in both the highways and visual impairment sectors, enabling further evaluation and potential pilot implementation.
Ross Atkin is continuing to research the relationship between the street environment and people with mobility impairments in relation to a study of walking, wellbeing and the over-75s. Full bibliography here.