The last time a Western student awoke to a reddish-yellow bumpy area there was some serious cause for concern.
Not this time, however, as ridged yellow and red concrete sections have suddenly sprung up all over campus, making Western’s plethora of crosswalks easier to navigate for the visually impaired.
The material, officially called tactile concrete, was installed as part of Western’s $2-million initiative to create a barrier-free environment.
“What they do is they provide a distinction for people who are visually impaired between where the sidewalk ends and where the road begins,” Brandon Watson, communications officer for Western’s Physical Plant Department, said.
Watson estimated the budget for installing the tactile concrete was around $500,000, with installation progress roughly a third of the way done.
Other enhancements Western will be rolling out as part of the barrier-free initiative include removing tripping hazards around campus and widening several of Western’s existing ramps.
“Essentially every crossing at Western is going to have tactile concrete,” Watson said. “So if you thought you saw a lot of them now, there will be even more in the future.”
While the bright red and yellow colours may look at first glance like a hot dog topping disaster, every element of the tactile concrete is carefully chosen for specific reasons. Those specific colours are often detectable by those with only semi-impaired vision who walk without the assistance of a cane or a guide dog.
Meanwhile, the raised bubble pattern is detectable by both the feet of the individual and guide dogs, which often have trouble with angled crossings.
Finally, the deep ridges pointing towards the crosswalk are designed to assist those who use the aid of a cane. The ridges both alert the individual to the cross walk and guide the person to the exact direction of the crossing.
“All of the elements make it much easier to cross,” Watson said. “I spoke with one woman who is visually impaired and uses a dog — she was ecstatic. She was very glad to see these sorts of actions have been taken and that Western seems to really care about providing a barrier-free environment.”
Some students have bemoaned the unique appearance of the tactile concrete, but aesthetics take a back seat when it comes to safety and accessibility.
“Being a little bit loud is obviously purposeful and necessary for the individuals that we have in mind,” Watson said. “I’ll admit, they don’t quite fit the natural beauty of Western but they’re a necessity.”