shared spaces for blind and partially sighted people: a challenge for designers

issues and advice for accessible public spaces


Drs. Else M. Havik and Dr. Bart J. M. Melis-Dankers
Royal Dutch Visio, Center of Expertise for Blind and partially sighted people. Huizen, the Netherlands.

Translation and revision by Prof. dr. Helen Petrie, University of York, Department of Computer Science. York, United Kingdom.

executive summary

Shared Space for visually impaired people: a challenge for designers. Focus points to achieve accessibility.

This focus point guide is the result of the research project "Accessibility of Shared Space for visually impaired people" that was conducted between 2009 and 2012 at Royal Dutch Visio, Centre of Expertise for Blind and Partially Sighted People. The Knowledge Centre Shared Space and the Accessibility Service of Royal Dutch Visio [Visio Zicht op Toegankelijkheid] were closely involved in the realisation of this guide.

Shared Space is a concept for the planning, design and use of public spaces. With respect to environmental design, it aims to create a streetscape that emphasizes the presence of human activities, thereby stimulating road users to behave cautiously and socially. Research by Visio has shown that in areas that are designed in conformity with the Shared Space concept, accessibility for visually impaired people is significantly lower than in conventionally designed areas.

The challenge for designers of Shared Space is to gain an understanding of those elements that are necessary to make the environment accessible for blind and partially sighted people and to integrate these elements in a Shared Space design without violating the concept as such. This guide aims to provide designer with the information that is required to achieve this.

The guide organizes information gained from research, from expertise on orientation and mobility for blind and partially people and from existing Dutch guidelines on accessible design. It starts by explaining how visually impaired people use environmental elements for the purpose of orientation and navigation (part A) and discussing the basic starting points both for Shared Space design and for designing for visually impaired people (part B). It then lists the most important functions that a Shared Space design should facilitate and describes the aspects that are important for visually impaired people (part C), and provides information about several design elements that can be used to increase accessibility for visually impaired people (part D). Finally, there is a checklist with the most important focus points that are mentioned throughout the text.

The guide is of interest to designers and others who are actively involved in the design and planning of Shared Space areas. It is meant to serve as a starting point to be used in the earliest design and planning stages. However, the final realization and integration of the focus points provided, used appropriately and in relation to the specific environment, requires more knowledge than can be offered in this guide. We therefore strongly recommend having the preliminary design checked by an expert in the field of accessibility for visually impaired people. For this we refer to the Accessibility Service of Visio. For more information about Shared Space we refer to


Shared Space is a concept for the design and use of public spaces, in which the road user is made aware of the presence of human activity by the design of the road. Research by Centre of Expertise for Blind and Partially Sighted People, Royal Dutch Visio, has shown that areas that have been designed based on the Shared Space concept are less accessible for people with visual impairments than conventionally designed environments. The lack of conventional structure (e.g. curbs and crossings) can lead to problems with orientation and way finding for visually impaired people. Teaching safe and familiar routes is difficult in Shared Spaces and visually impaired people feel less at ease.

Challenge for designers

At first sight the principles of Shared Space seem difficult to combine with the demands that are placed on an accessible space. The challenge for designers is to incorporate the essential elements for visually impaired people in the design of a public space, without violating the Shared Space concept.

Purpose of this guide

bullet pointGeneral awareness of the specific requirements for visually impaired people for accessible spaces by providing background information and guidelines.

bullet pointApplication of this information and guidelines from the early stages of the planning and design process will result in comfortable and pleasant spaces for people with visual impairments in future Shared Space areas.

Contents of the guide

bullet pointElements to be taken into account when designing accessible Shared Space for blind and partially sighted people are listed and explained.

bullet pointPart of this information is taken from existing sources (see bibliography). Where applicable, these sources are referred to [in square brackets]

bullet pointWe have deliberately chosen to be very sparing with illustrations and photographs in this guide. This gives designers the opportunity to come up with their own solutions for each of the guidelines.

bullet pointIn cooperation with Visio, the Knowledge Centre Shared Space of the Noordelijke Hogeschool Leeuwarden (NHL) developed an online database with information, tips and guidelines, which also provides examples of Shared Space design. We urge you to upload your own examples here. This database can be accessed through the website of the NHL and the website of Visio.

Intended use of this guide

bullet pointThe guide is intended for anyone involved in the planning and designing of a Shared Space location.

bullet pointFrom the very first stage in the planning and design process one should take into account accessibility for blind and partially sighted people. The focus points in this guide can be used as the basis for this process.

bullet pointWe emphasize that more knowledge is needed for the final resolution of the issues than can be offered in this guide. One needs to bear in mind that applying the guidelines will not automatically lead to an accessible design. The separate details are only applicable when they are used in conjunction with each other. In addition, proper application of the points depends very much on local conditions. Once the preliminary design is complete, it is important to review the design and to seek advice from an expert in the field of accessibility for visually impaired people.

The advisory service Royal Dutch Visio has expertise in this area and can help you. Through close cooperation with our project partners you will be redirected to a specific expert in your various areas of interest.

bullet pointThe information in this guide on visual accessibility of public places is often also applicable to public places which are not specifically Shared Space.

contents and structure

Brief background on visual impairments and their consequences for mobility and street design. This chapter is important to understand the focus points in this guide.
General principles which form the basis for the rest of this guide and make clear what the challenge is for designers of a Shared Space area.
Important features that should be facilitated in a public space. The relevant elements for visually impaired people are discussed per function. For further detail we refer to section D.
Design elements that can be used to guarantee accessibility for people with visual impairments.
Overview of the major concerns.
Additional information about the recommended procedure to achieve optimal accessibility of the Shared Space environment. This takes into account the different audiences and advisory disciplines.
List of major works of reference in the text referenced by numbers [in square brackets] and tips for further reading.

blind or partially sighted street users

Brief background about visual impairments and their consequences for mobility and street design. This chapter is important to understand the focus points in this guide.


visual impairments

bullet pointIn the Netherlands, more than 316,000 people are blind or partially sighted. It is expected that this number will increase by 20% to 380,000 in 2020 [1]. This is a significant part of the population which cannot be ignored.

bullet pointThe majority of these people are aged fifty years or older.

bullet pointOnly some people with a visual impairment are blind. Blindness is defined as no light perception at all, or if only light and dark can be distinguished, or if visual acuity (a measure of the perception of detail) is less than 20/400 and/or the field of view is limited to less than 10 degrees (a full field of view covers approximately 180 degrees).

bullet pointThe majority of people with visual impairments have low vision. They can use their residual vision to some extent. There are many different types of visual impairment, each with its own specific effect on mobility.


Various visual impairments

bullet pointIn addition to visual acuity and visual field, other aspects of vision may be affected, such as light perception, contrast sensitivity or colour vision.

bullet pointThe pictures on page A1 give some examples of what people with different visual impairments can see.

bullet pointThese different forms of visual impairment may have very different consequences for the ability to move around independently.

bullet pointThese differences should be taken into account in the design. Accessibility Service of Royal Dutch Visio can provide information about the specific effects of certain eye conditions.

Shared Space area in Haren

Photo of a Shared Space area in Haren, made with Low Vision Simulator. The images are simulations of (from left to right): visual acuity 20/2000; acuity 20/40 with central loss; acuity 20/40 due to glaucoma, normal visual acuity 20/20 with peripheral field loss due to Retinitis Pigmentosa. These images give a global impression of what people who have these types of visual impairment see.


Low Vision Simulator

bullet pointWith the Low Vision Simulator pictures of random situations can be modified so that they give an impression of what someone who is visually impaired can or can not see. The software for the Low Vision Simulator can be downloaded free of charge from

bullet pointThe simulations can serve as a tool for designers to get an impression of the accessibility of their design for someone with a particular visual impairment.

bullet pointOther simulation programs are mentioned in D1.


mobility and orientation

From A to B

bullet pointFor blind as well as for partially sighted people, a safe and easy transfer from location A to location B is not obvious.

bullet pointIn order to not collide with obstacles they have to be noticed in sufficient time. One has to be able to orient in space and to determine one’s location, in which direction one is moving and to know where to walk to. In addition, one must be able to recognize a safe route.

bullet pointThis is accomplished through usable residual vision (what can still be seen) and based on information obtained through the other senses.


Orientation and mobility training

bullet pointSome blind and partially sighted people take orientation and mobility training to learn how to use their residual visual information and non-visual (tactile, audible, usable) information from the environment to move about safely and to orientate themselves.

bullet pointDuring orientation and mobility training people usually learn fixed routes in familiar environments. These routes are learned by rote, on the basis of a sequence of points of orientation/interest. This requires a lot of practice and for most blind and partially sighted people, it is not an easy task.

bullet pointIn an unfamiliar environment, where one does not know the route, moving aroud independently requires a high degree of skills and independence in orientation and mobility. Predictability of the environment based on what one is used to, is important.

bullet pointIt should not be assumed that all people with visual impairments are fully independent. Even after training, they remain dependent on an accessible space.


use of aids

The long cane

bullet pointA long cane is used to scan for unevenness (curbs, ramps, loose tiles) and obstacles in order to determine safe routes for walking.


The guide dog

bullet pointA guide dog is trained to lead his or her owner around obstacles, to choose the safest route and to indicate learned landmarks on a route.

bullet pointThe dog has learned to walk on the sidewalk and uses the curb, marked by a difference in height, as a landmark.

bullet pointIn general, the dog is unable to make use of differences in colour or subtle differences in the texture or contrast of the paving material.

bullet pointIt is a misconception that a guide dog knows the way and can indicate when the owner can safely cross a road. In all circumstances, this remains the responsibility of the visually impaired person themselves.


Identification cane / Symbol cane

bullet pointBy far the largest number of visually impaired people do not use a long cane or guide dog. Therefore they are simply not recognizable as being visually impaired. Sometimes they carry a short identification cane, for example when crossing a road, so that is should be clear to other road users that they are visually impaired.

Electronic tools for obstacle detection and orientation

bullet pointThere are various electronic devices that, like a long cane or a guide dog, are capable of detecting obstacles.

bullet pointIn addition, there are electronic devices for navigation and orientation. These often use the Global Positioning System (GPS) and can provide assistance in locating and way finding.

bullet pointGPS devices are not yet accurate enough to indicate whether one is walking on the pavement or the roadway.


bullet pointGPS devices only work in places where signals from sufficient satellites are received, not inside buildings and not well between tall buildings or under trees.



Landmarks are distinctive, recognizable elements in the environment. Such points represent confirmation of one’s location and can be associated with a particular act: after this I have to turn right, or here I have to cross. Sighted people mainly use visual information for theses task. However, blind and partially people largely or totally depend on information collected using their other senses.


Some non-visual landmarks

bullet pointChanges in the surface that can be observed with a long cane or one’s feet. For example, a curb, a slope, a change in pavement material.

bullet pointThe sound of traffic. One can hear that one is approaching a side street. From the sound of the traffic flow someone can get information about the direction in which it is heading.

bullet pointThe smell of a particular store or restaurant.

bullet pointFeeling the wind or the sun gives information about the presence of buildings or a side street and assists orientation.


Echo localization for orientation

bullet pointInformation about the environment, such as the height and width ratio of the street, can be derived from the reflection of the sound of a long cane or the contact of one’s foot with the ground. In this way one notices that a building is close by, or that a building line ends. This technique is called echo localization. Someone can use the sound from tapping their long cane or someone can produce a sound for this very purpose, for example, by a click of the tongue.

bullet pointCertainly not all blind and partially sighted people are skilled in this technique. Learning to recognize and use such information from the environment requires a lot of explanation, training and practice. One should not assume that all people with a visual impairment have or can master this technique.

The guide dog and landmarks

bullet pointA guide dog can learn to identify landmarks and common situations such as a pedestrian crossing, a curb or a mailbox on a route.

bullet pointA dog does not have useful colour vision.


general principles for street design

General principles which form the basis for the rest of this guide and make clear what the challenge is for designers of a Shared Space area.


shared space design

bullet pointA Shared Space design gives the street a different character to conventional designed areas. The aim is for the street to be used in a more social way.

bullet pointThe residential and social meeting functions of the space is emphasized. The design should cue drivers to be alert and provoke cautious behaviour, such as driving at a low speed and paying extra attention to other road users.

bullet pointUsually (but not always) the usual structure of the road is minimized in Shared Space and lacks formal crossings, traffic lights and the traditional division into separate driving lanes for cars, bikes and pedestrians.

bullet pointThe space itself provides less formal indications of how traffic should behave. The traffic behaviour is thus more dependent on social rules and consideration for other road users.


bullet pointThe way a Shared Space environment looks is not uniquely defined. In general, the following principles apply:
bullet pointfocus is on the residential nature and the social meeting function of an environment
bullet pointfree use of the environment, and sharing space is encouraged
bullet pointfocus is on pedestrians
bullet pointmotorized traffic is less dominant and has to behave as a ‘guest’
bullet pointpedestrians, cyclists and motorized traffic are (partially) mixed
bullet pointthe indication of the boundaries between sections of the road meant for pedestrians and areas for motorized traffic and cyclists is less clear
bullet pointthe character of the space encourages social behaviour
bullet pointusers/residents are actively involved in the design

bullet pointApplying Shared Space is not a goal in itself. It is only applicable where the environment permits it and users wish it [2].

For more information about the Shared Space concept we refer readers to the website of the Knowledge Center Shared Space:


designing for people with visual impairments

Clear and recognizable structure

bullet pointFor people with visual impairments, it is important that the area is sufficiently recognizable, so that they can move around in a safe and comfortable way. A clear and simple structure should ensure that the user immediately understands what is a good place to walk or to cross. This structure should be provided by means of elements that are clearly recognizable for blind and partially sighted people (see D1).

Consistency and predictability

bullet pointFor all users, but especially for people with visual impairments, it is important that street elements are used consistently and have the same meaning in different places in an environment.


bullet pointPredictability of the environment simplifies navigation. Blind and partially sighted people are largely dependent on their general knowledge of what is normal in the area. Based on experience we know what to expect and how elements encountered should be interpreted.


Free usage and recognition - the challenge for Shared Space Design

Although visually impaired people need clear structure, Shared Space design specifically encourages people to share the space and to move freely through space. The designer of a Shared Space area is thus faced with the challenge to emphasize the individuality and the residential character of the area, and at the same time create enough recognizable elements and structures so that all road users, including people with visual impairments, know what is expected of them and how they can move through the area safely.


utilization of the space

Important features that should be used in a public space. The relevant elements for visually impaired people are discussed per function. For further details we refer the reader to section D.


sharing spaces

Sharing space is a choice

bullet pointA Shared Space area offers pedestrians the freedom to move freely through the area and to share it with the other road users.

bullet pointNot all areas have to be shared. Pedestrians should be able to choose whether or not they interfere with other traffic.

Natural distribution of the space

bullet pointGenerally pedestrians walk along the side of the road and other traffic moves in the centre. This will also be the case in a Shared Space area.

bullet pointSharing the space mainly takes place on the roadway portion of the street, while the space along the sides is mainly intended for pedestrians and vulnerable road users.


bullet pointIn some cases, this distribution is already present naturally, for instance because there is a row of trees along the road section.


Comfort zone [2]

bullet pointIt may be necessary to preserve this natural division explicitly in the design by means of a comfort zone where pedestrians and other vulnerable road users are given space and where no other traffic will be expected.

bullet pointEspecially in crowded situations, without a clear guiding line (see D2), the presence of a comfort zone is important.

bullet pointThe comfort zone is a continuous, barrier-free and recognizable route (see C3) between crossings and decision points.

bullet pointFor example, a comfort zone can be achieved by using different colours and materials, and by the installation of street furniture (see D1 and D4).


bullet pointThe comfort zone itself is clearly recognizable by visually impaired people. They should be able to notice when they leave the comfort zone and enter the shared space area. Especially in crowded situations, it is necessary that the comfort zone is fully and clearly marked.



Each destination should be accessible

bullet pointFor anyone who wants to do so it is possible to move through the area and to choose the shortest route from A to B even if one crosses the street diagonally. However, every possible destination (shop, café, home, office) should also be accessible via an accessible route.

bullet pointEvery conceivable connection must therefore be made accessible by at least one recognizable, barrier-free and uninterrupted route. A good connection of trails at crossings is necessary (see C3).

bullet pointGood routing can be designed by using grid patterns (see D4).


General considerations for walking routes [3]

bullet pointSufficient free width (generally ≥ 1.8 m; occasional ≥ 1.2 m)

bullet pointSufficient free height (anywhere ≥ 2.3 m)

bullet pointEven and sufficiently rough surface (level difference/bump no greater than 5 mm)

Free walking route

bullet pointThe route is free from obstructions (e.g. displays, terraces, street furniture, parked cars and bicycles).

bullet pointTo ensure a free walking route, there is a clear policy that is enforced.


Route guidance

bullet pointMost people with visual impairments need clear guidance to keep moving in a particular direction and not to stray from the chosen route.

bullet pointRoute guidance is provided by natural guiding lines or tactile paving (see D2).

bullet pointRoute guidance is provided in a consistent manner throughout the entire location (see B2).

Borders of the pedestrian area (or comfort zone, see C1)

bullet pointThe comfort zone is bounded in a recognizable way for visually impaired people (see D3), so they can not end up in a part of the street where (motorised) vehicles drive without noticing.

bullet pointThis delimitation is carried out in a consistent manner over the entire location (see B2).



A place to cross in a Shared Space area?

Although a Shared Space area offers the freedom to cross the street everywhere, there are also users who benefit from a specially designated crossing place. This need not necessarily be a formal place with traffic lights, audible indications and/or a pedestrian crossing, for which special directives exist [3]. The considerations set out below yield a suitable crossing place for people with visual impairments.

Recognition and marking the crossing

bullet pointThe crossing place is clearly recognizable for blind and partially sighted people. For example, by a striking landmark (see A4).


bullet pointFor visually impaired pedestrians it should be clear where the crossing begins and when the other side is reached. The transition from pedestrian area to the section of the street with faster traffic is clearly felt by a long cane or underfoot (see D1: materials, and D5: warning marks).

bullet pointA tactile marker in the direction of the crossing, where traditionally the curb would have been, is useful to visually impaired people to position themselves perpendicular to the driving direction and to cross in a short, straight line.


Recognition for other traffic

bullet pointWhile drivers of vehicles and cyclists in a Shared Space area should always be alert to pedestrians crossing, the special crossing place should be clear.

bullet pointTo draw the attention of the other traffic to the crossing, a portion of the road can be marked by differences in colour and/or material or by a small gradient. Local narrowing of the road can lead to slower speeds and increased attention of drivers and cyclists.

Connection to the walking route

bullet pointThe area is designed in such way that the walkways automatically connect to the crossing place. This can be realized by a tactile marking (see D1: materials) perpendicular to the route and leading to the crossing.


Good sightlines

bullet pointIt is important to have good visibility to oncoming traffic. Around the crossing place ample sight lines should be available, both for visually impaired pedestrians to see approaching traffic as well as for drivers to see the person crossing in time.


parking, loading and unloading

bullet pointAt the start of the design phase one should make a clear choice on parking policy. One should weigh up whether the street offers plenty of space for parking spaces [2]. Sufficient space for the road users should always be available.

bullet pointLack of an unambiguous parking policy leads to chaotic and unpredictable situations. Good predictability is very important for people with visual impairment. Therefore, parking regulations should be clear and enforced.

bullet pointParking spaces should be located where the parked cars cannot interfere with sight lines for crossing places: not close to pedestrian crossings and intersections.

bullet pointCarefully chosen placement of street furniture prevents parking on walking routes.

bullet pointParking places for bicycles should be included in the design. The same considerations for these apply as for vehicle parking.


displays and terraces

bullet pointBecause the walking route should remain free of obstacles, a clear policy regarding shop displays and terraces should be consistently implemented and maintained.

bullet pointA walking route along a façade line requires that displays and terraces are arranged in such a way that sufficient walking space is left. The façade is free of obstacles and forms a continuous line where possible (see D2: natural guiding lines).

bullet pointIn cases where displays and terraces are close to the façade line, there is clear route guidance along the street side of the route that prevents blind and partially sighted people from straying out of the safe pedestrian zone onto the roadway unnoticed (see D2: natural guiding lines and D3: delimitation of the roadway).


public transport stops

bullet pointThe walking route should remain free of obstacles near public transport stops and there should be ample space for in-and outflow of passengers.

bullet pointStops are easy to find for blind and partially sighted people. If required, route guidance is applied to the stopping place (see D2: route guidance).

bullet pointLevel differences at the stop require clear warning marking (see D5).


design elements

Design elements that can be used to guarantee accessibility for people with visual impairments.



Visible differences: brightness and colour contrast

bullet pointVisually impaired people benefit from the use of clear luminance contrasts to highlight objects and make them visible. Clear colour contrasts can be used to indicate a difference in function.

bullet pointWhen marking a walking route or pedestrian crossing it is particularly important that the difference in brightness (the reflection factor) between materials and colours is sufficient. The guideline for this is a difference in the reflection factor greater than 0.3 [3].

bullet pointGood ways to get an impression of the usability of luminance contrasts is to create a black and white image or to use simulation software. The effect of various visual conditions can be simulated with the Low Vision Simulator or with the apps 'VisionSim' and 'ZIEN'.


bullet pointAbout 1 in 12 men have abnormal colour vision. In particular, the distinction between red and green is difficult and the colour red is seen as dark. To get an impression of the effect of a disturbance in colour vision various simulation programs on the Internet can be found.

bullet pointAssessing the usability of luminance and colour contrast is complex and situational. One is advised strongly to seek advice from an expert in this field (Accessibility Service of Royal Dutch Visio).

All simulation programs mentioned provide a qualitative impression and not an exact representation of what a person with a visual impairment can see. For more information please contact an expert in the field.

bullet pointLow Vision Simulator developed by TNO and Visio:

bullet pointVisionSim: application of Braille Institute of America for iPhone:


bullet pointZIEN: Bartiméus App for iPhone by Accessibility Foundation:

For more information about colour vision:


Tactile differences: differences in surface structure

bullet pointClearly perceptible (by long cane or underfoot) differences in the texture of the surface underfoot is important for blind and partially sighted people to indicate differences in function (for example, the transition from road to pavement).

Audible differences

bullet pointSpecial sound tiles or rubber tiles give a different sound when walking or in contact with the long cane.

Everything has meaning!

bullet pointDecorative use of materials, colour and contrast differences can lead to confusion. It is therefore important to apply differences in colour and surface uniformly. When decorative paving is used, this should not be confusing and not conflict with the functional use.


route guidance

bullet pointMany blind and partially sighted people need guidance to keep the right direction and to avoid straying off the chosen route.

bullet pointUseful route guidance is tactile and visual (luminance contrast).

bullet pointRoute guidance is a continuous and straight line, which may be composed of several elements.


Natural guiding lines [3]

bullet pointA natural guiding line is formed by elements that are not specifically designed for blind and partially sighted people, but can serve as route guidance, provided it is continuous and free of obstructions.

bullet pointExamples are:
bullet pointcurb
bullet pointfaçade line
bullet pointgrass edge, hedge, wall, fence
bullet pointtactile contrast (texture difference) in pavement
bullet pointluminance contrast pavement
bullet pointdrainage channel

bullet pointA line of poles, boulders, lampposts, trees or street furniture can emphasize the walking direction. However, such an indication is not a continuous line, and can therefore only be used as support. Especially in places where straying off the route can have major consequences, additional route guidance is necessary.


bullet pointExamples of natural guiding lines

voorbeelden van natuurlijke gisdslijnen

Tactile pavement [3]

bullet pointWhere other elements in the environment provide insufficient guidance (and therefore no suitable natural guiding line is present) tactile pavement should be used.

bullet pointTruncated domes have to be clearly detectable by foot or long cane.

bullet pointTactile pavement is never interrupted by obstacles.

bullet pointTactile pavement contrasts in texture, luminance and colour with the surrounding pavement and is therefore clearly detectable by blind people and visible for some partially sighted people.

bullet pointTactile pavement is located at least 60 cm from the curb, road delimitation or obstacles.

bullet pointThe end of the tactile pavement connects directly to a natural guiding line or a warning marker at a pedestrian crossing (see D5).


bullet pointExamples of guiding lines

examples of guiding lines

delimitation of the road, pedestrian zone or comfort zone

The transition from a comfort zone (see C1) to the space that is shared with other traffic should be clearly recognizable. Visually impaired people should not walk on a part of the street where faster traffic comes without noticing it themselves.

NB: It should be clear to the user whether a tactile difference in paving is intended as tactile pavement (route guidance) or as a separation between the pavement and the roadway. This should not give rise to any confusion.


bullet pointThe boundary of a comfort zone or pedestrian zone can be indicated with a small height difference or a conventional curb.

bullet pointApplication of the Shared Space concept does not necessarily mean that there should be no curbs or height differences at all in the pavement.



bullet pointAs an alternative to a curb, other design elements may be used as a boundary for a zone. Similar guidance rules apply (see D2).

bullet pointClear perceptible differences in the pavement, clear contrasts (see D1) and elements such as grass edges or walls can be used.

bullet pointPlacement of elements such as trees or lamp posts can act as a natural demarcation, preventing drivers from driving in the pedestrian area. For visually impaired pedestrians the delimitation should form a continuous, tactile line so they do not end up on the roadway without realizing it.

bullet pointTraditional tactile pavement (see D2) should never be used as a boundary of a roadway.


grid pattern

bullet pointTo provide guidance and clarity to people with visual impairments, walking routes and pedestrian crossing require a clear structure and interconnections.

bullet pointA convenient way to realize this is by using a grid pattern where trails along the comfort zone and pedestrian crossing are placed perpendicular to each other. This facilitates orientation and provides clear lines. The façade lines are optimally used, the interaction with vehicles is minimized and the crossing distances are as short as possible [2].

bullet pointThis usually does not lead to the shortest possible route, but it offers support and comfort for those who need it. Others may walk diagonally through the area if desired.

schematic overview of a grid pattern in a conventionally designed area

bullet pointSchematic overview of a grid pattern in a conventionally designed area.

bullet pointSchematic overview of a grid pattern in a Shared Space area.

schematic overview of a grid pattern in a Shared Space area

warning markers

bullet pointWarning markers [3] are required at pedestrian crossings, in dangerous areas (such as stairs and height differences) and at the end of tactile pavement where there is no connection to a natural guiding line (see D2).

bullet pointWarning markers can be distinguished clearly (tactile, visual and/or audible) from the adjacent pavement and have a truncated profile.

bullet pointThe minimum width of a detectable warning is 60 cm. Narrower markers are easily missed.


height differences

bullet pointSmall differences in level can be used as route guidance and to indicate differences in function.

bullet pointGreater height differences along the walking route create a risk of falling and should be avoided in the design. If there are still differences in height applied, clear warning marking is necessary. At height differences of 25 cm or more, fall protection must be applied [3].



bullet pointStreet lighting must be sufficiently clear and even and should be activated at appropriate times.

bullet pointTo illuminate the area under all circumstances and to avoid light pollution, the choice of the light source, the light colour, the type of lighting columns and their positioning has to be consistent and conscious.

bullet pointA line of lampposts, possibly in combination with other street furniture, can serve as a visual and physical separation between pedestrian and road sections. People with visual impairments can use the light in the dark to orient themselves and to walk from light to light.

bullet pointThe placement of the lampposts relative to the walking route, tactile pavement and natural guiding lines should be done consciously. This is state-dependent and needs to be considered in conjunction. Specific advice from an expert in the field of visual accessibility is strongly recommended.


speed limit

bullet pointThe establishment of a Shared Space area should automatically lead to cautious driving behaviour and road users giving each other space. This includes driving at low speed. The design should make it clear at a glance that one has to drive slowly.

bullet pointLower speeds make it easier for cyclists and motorists to take other road users into account and are necessary to be able to share the space.

bullet pointThe maximum speed in Shared Space areas should not exceed 20 mph.



General principles
bullet pointClear and recognizable structure
bullet pointConsistency and predictability
bullet pointAccessible route to all conceivable locations

Shared space
bullet pointSharing space is a choice
bullet pointPresence of comfort zone for pedestrians

Walking routes
bullet pointFree walking routes, no obstacles
bullet pointNavigation: natural guiding lines or tactile pavement
bullet pointDelimitation of pedestrian area: tactile and visual

Pedestrian crossings
bullet pointConnection to walking route: use of grid
bullet pointRecognizable and marked pedestrian crossings
bullet pointRecognizable to other traffic
bullet pointOpen sightlines

Parking, loading and unloading
bullet pointPreventing chaotic and unpredictable situations
bullet pointClear policies and effective enforcement

Shop displays and terraces
bullet pointFree routes and route guidance
bullet pointClear policies and effective enforcement

Public transport stops
bullet pointOff the walking route
bullet pointEasy to find

Material use
bullet pointFunctional use of visual, tactile and audible differences in material
bullet pointEverything has meaning: no confusing decorative use of material or colour differences

Warning markings
bullet pointDangerous situations such as stairs and pedestrian crossings are equipped with warning marks

Height differences
bullet pointAvoiding level differences or provide warning marks

bullet pointEven lighting that is sufficiently clear
bullet pointAvoid light pollution
bullet pointChoice of light source, light colour and type of lamppost
bullet pointProper placement of lampposts relative to (walking) routes

Speed limit
bullet pointDesign leads to cautious traffic behaviour at low speeds.
bullet pointUp to max. 20 mph.

what's next?

The background information and guidelines provided in this guide form the basis for the planning and design process. This facilitates accessibility for blind and partially sighted people is included directly in the design from the very first stage. For the full realization of these issues considerably more knowledge is required than can be offered in this short guide. The individual details are only useful when they are used appropriately and taking into account interactions between different elements. Proper application of the guidelines depends very much on the local conditions.

The interests of vulnerable road users and people with restrictions have to be taken into consideration. Once the preliminary design is completed, it is important to seek advice from an expert in the field of accessibility for visually impaired people. We strongly recommend to focus on the details of accessibility and to have the accessibility tested.

Seek advice on reachability, usability, accessibility and safety of public buildings and outdoor spaces.

Through collaboration with the Knowledge Shared Space of the NHL and facilitating scientific research on Shared Space, Accessibility Service of Royal Dutch Visio has experts who can provide advice on the accessibility of public spaces for blind and partially sighted people. Through close collaboration with a large number of partners one can be redirected via Visio to the appropriate expert for a local situation or problem.


The numbers in square brackets [] refer to the following, highly recommended, reference works.

[1] Information on the number of people with visual impairments in the Netherlands:
bullet pointKeunen, JEE, Verezen, AC, Imhof SM, van Rens, GHMB, Asselbergs MB and Limburg, J. J. (2011). Increase in demand for eye care in the Netherlands from 2010 to 2020. Dutch Journal of Medicine, 155: A3461

[2] Information on Shared Space and tips for planning and design:
bullet pointLocal Transport Note 2011, Department for Transport London. Download at

[3] Information on accessibility guidelines:
bullet pointHandboek voor Toegankelijkheid. M. Wijk, e.g. 2008 Reed Business
bullet pointFull accessibility guideline public space. CROW, Ede, 2002; Order at
bullet pointPractice Book accessible public space. CROW, Ede, 2004; Order at
bullet pointProject Accessibility: for current design guidelines for route guidance

Further reading

On accessible design of public space for visually impaired people:
bullet pointInclusive streets. Design principles for blind and partially sighted people. Guide Dogs Association of Great Britain, 2010. Download at

bullet pointStrassen- Wegen – Plätze. Richtlinien “Behindertengerechte Fusswegnetze”. E. Schmidt & J.A. Manser. Schweizerische Fachstelle für behindertengerechtes Bauen. Druckerei Albisrieden, Zurich, 2003.

bullet pointRTS 14 – Guidelines for facilities for blind and vision-impaired pedestrians. Land Trans- port, New Zealand, 2007. Download at

Attractive and safe design of Shared Space areas:
bullet pointGemeinschaftsstrassen – Attraktiv und sicher. Unfallforschung der Versicherer. Gesamtverband der Deutschen Versicherungswirtschaft e.V., Berlin, 2011. Download at

Shared Space research

The results of the Shared Space studies in Visio:
bullet pointHavik, E.M., Steyvers, F.J.J.M., Kooijman, A.C. & Melis-Dankers, B.J.M. (2012). Shared Space for visually impaired persons. An inventory in the Netherlands. Accepted for publication in the British Journal of Visual Impairment.

bullet pointHavik, E.M., Steyvers, F.J.J.M., Kooijman, A.C. & Melis-Dankers, B.J.M. (2012). Accessibility of Shared Space for visually impaired persons: a comparative field study. Submitted for publication in scientific journals.

bullet pointHavik, E.M. (2012). Wayfinding and accessibility for visually impaired people. Wayfinding and accessibility for visually impaired people. Thesis. University of Groningen.


Production and responsibilities

This guide is the result of the research project "Accessibility of Shared Space areas for blind and partially sighted people" which was conducted between 2009 and 2012 by Royal Dutch Visio. This research and publication were sponsored by ZonMW-InZicht. Within Visio the department Visio Accessibility [Visio Zicht op Toegankelijkheid] was involved. This department advises about accessibility questions for visually impaired people. In addition, the Knowledge Centre Shared Space of the NHL University of applied sciences in Leeuwarden participated in the production of this guide.

The following organizations were project partners involved in the project:


bullet pointBartiméus
bullet pointAssociation of Guide Dogs Schools in the Netherlands (BNN)
bullet pointCROW, National technology platform for infrastructure, traffic, transport and public space
bullet pointSmallingerland municipality
bullet pointHaren municipality
bullet pointKnowledge Center Shared Space, NHL University
bullet pointDutch Association of the Blind & Visually Impaired (NVBS)
bullet pointProvince of Friesland, consultation traffic and transport
bullet pointRegional Body Road Fryslân
bullet pointUniversity of Groningen, Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences
bullet pointUniversity of Groningen, Faculty of Medical Sciences
bullet pointRijkswaterstaat, Centre for Transport and Navigation Safety Department
bullet pointFoundation for Scientific Research Road Safety (SWOV)
bullet pointDelft University of Technology, Faculty of Technology, Policy and Management

bullet pointUniversity Medical Center Groningen
bullet pointViziris, network of people with a visual impairment


bullet pointGuide Dogs of the Blind Association / Joint committee on Mobility of Blind and Partially sighted People, United Kingdom
bullet pointHamilton-Baillie Associates Limited, United Kingdom
bullet pointDeutscher Blinden- und Sehenbehindertenverband (DBSV), Germany
bullet pointDepartment for Transport, United Kingdom

For the current contact details of these organizations please contact Accessibility Service of Royal Dutch Visio. You will then be referred to the appropriate expert.


Eccolo design, ‘s Gravenmoer, The Netherlands


By CROW (natural guiding lines and guiding lines; Else Havik (taken with the Low Vision Simulator); Royal Dutch Visio (cover photo).

To order extra copies of this publication, please contact Accessibility Service of Royal Dutch Visio.

Correspondence address

Accessibility Service of Royal Dutch Visio
Amersfoortsestraatweg 180
NL-1272 RR Huizen
Phone: +31 88 5855000
Twitter: @VZoT


Although the information in this guide has been prepared with the greatest care, no guarantee can be given that the information is fully correct and/or remains so at any time in the future. Royal Dutch Visio can not be held responsible for any consequence, (financial) loss, damage or injury resulting from applying or using the information in this guide. No part of this publication may be reproduced and/or published without prior written permission by Royal Dutch Visio.

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