Tenji blocks in Dubai
Residents can find tactile paving installed at Amer Service Centre, located at Mazaya Centre in Dubai. Image Credit: Gulf News

Dubai: Tactile paving is no longer limited to Dubai's metro, and have now been spotted at shopping centres and areas behind Sheikh Zayed Road.

Although the majority of residents said they had an idea about its function, many were unsure of what these truncated domes were called, or how they were actually used.

“I think they’re guidelines for people to walk on, but I’m not really sure for what. I haven’t seen it in other places, maybe except for a hospital,” said Anamae Piape, 24, a Filipina cashier.

Shah Humaiyun, a 31-year-old Pakistani clerk, said he was aware of the paving’s function, and had mainly seen them in Dubai’s metro stations.

“They are for people who are visually impaired, and they are in quite a few public places in Dubai. For every 100 people, I’ve seen about one person using it,” he said.

Indian national Mohammad Rafeek Mohammad Hussain, 35, who works as a messenger for a government department, said the office where works has installed tactile paving across its halls, but had no clue as to its purpose.

“I see them all the time but do not know what it is for. I’ve never seen anybody using them. I don’t remember seeing them in other buildings or malls,” he said.

When Gulf News approached a visually-impaired person about the practicality of the tactile paving in neighborhood malls, they pointed out that there remains room for improvement.

“The braille tiles in commercial areas, like banks or government centres, are not helpful because they are restricted to the vicinity. Instead of installing them inside a bank, that’s located in a centre, the tiles should be installed everywhere in the centre,” said the visually-impaired person, who declined to be named.

Where did it come from?

In 1965, Japanese inventor Seiichi Miyake created tactile blocks to help a friend who was visually impaired. The project, which was self-funded by Miyake, were soon introduced across Japan’s streets and by 1967, were made mandatory in the country’s train stations.

Seiichi Miyake invented Tenji blocks
Seiichi Miyake invented a paving system for visually impaired people in 1965 and named it Tenji, the Japanese word for Braille. Image Credit: Twitter/ Courtesy: @japan

Miyake called his invention Tenji blocks after the name for the Japanese version of Braille, which are nowadays often referred to as “Braille blocks”.

On its official twitter account, the Government of Japan shared photos of Miyake who invented this system, which is now widely used across the world.

How does it work?

The tiles are installed either with raised lines or dots.

Tiles with raised lines tell the user that they can continue to walk straight at ease, while the small bumps indicate a “stop” and used to mark a curb or platform edge. All countries use the standard type of lines and dots, but some cities have gone a step further by painting the blocks [on streets] in colours for people who are partially sighted. 

Where can you find them in Dubai?

Dubai Municipality has installed tactile guiding for the visually impaired across all its centres, which include Al Kifaf, Al Manara, Al Twar and Hatta.

“The visual guiding mechanism for People of Determination is mandatory for Dubai Municipality Centers and its one of the 7-star standards for customer service centers,” said Manal Obaid Bin Yaroof, director of customer relations and partnerships department at Dubai Municipality.

Are they also in private buildings?

For now, residents can currently find tactile paving in a few privately-owned establishments, such as banks, and recently-constructed neighbourhood malls.

But more will be installed throughout the city, assured Mohammad Murad, a civil engineer at Dubai Municipality.

Speaking to Gulf News, Murad, who is also responsible for coordinating the installation of services for people of determination in the city, pointed out that as many as 23,000 buildings are under assessment.

“All government services in Dubai are friendly for people with disabilities, and we are assessing shopping centres and private buildings. Our team carry out inspections at hospitals, schools and hotels, and then write up a report on how they should be improved,” he said.

The horizontal lines used in guiding tactile pavements should be at least a total of 40 centimetres, while each strip should maintain a size of at least 4cm at the bottom and 3cm at the top, according to Dubai Municipality regulations. The braille blocks should also not be shiny or slippery.

Braille blocks
The horizontal lines used in guiding tactile pavements should be a total length of at least 40cm, according to Dubai Municipality's regulations. Image Credit: Dubai Municipality

The tile of truncated cones, which is used as a stop signal, should be at a total length of no less than 30cm in width and 30cm in length, while each cone should be 3cm at the bottom and 2cm at the top.

Truncated cones
Truncated cones should be 3cm at the bottom and 2cm at the top, according to Dubai Municipality's guidelines. Image Credit: Dubai Municipality

“[In buildings] some items are impossible to change but for others, it can, like the widening of toilet facilities, which not only cater to people in wheelchairs but to old people as well. We also recommend the installation of tactile flooring, which we already have in all our one-stop shops, like in Al Twar and Al Manara,” said Murad.

“Buildings in Dubai have to pass at least 75 per cent of our requirements to be approved as disabled-friendly. After the modifications are done, our job is to check the alterations and give the buildings a new rating, so that we can ensure that people from all segments of society are catered," he added.

Friendly metro stations & streets

Tactile paving can also be found across all metro stations, while other facilities provided by the RTA, such as footbridges and different modes of transportation, aim to make mobility easier for people of determination.

Manar Abdul Qadir, a visually impaired person, using the tactile guidance path at one of the stations of Dubai Metro. Image Credit: GN Archives

Recently, the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) in Dubai has also started to install tactile paving, most notably in the Jumeirah district, to provide easier accessibility for visually impaired people.

Tactile paving in Dubai
Tactile paving on a sidewalk near the Dubai Centre for Special Needs in Al Safa area, Jumeirah. Image Credit: Gulf News

Visually impaired people use tactile paving to locate and safely use road crossings, as well as navigating familiar routes.

To further assist people of determination, the RTA has launched a series of benefits through offering discounts and exemption fees for a number of transport services.

Commenting on the initiative, the RTA said: “Services customised to people of determination include exemption from Salik tolls (except audio disabilities), exemption from vehicle registration and renewal fees (including immediate family members). They also include 50 per cent exemption from driving license renewal fees, exemption from application fees of parking card, and 100 per cent exemption from fees of nol card for senior Emiratis.”

The step is in line with the directives of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and the initiative of His Highness Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of Dubai Executive Council, which is carried out under the slogan: “My Community... A City for Everyone."