Tshwane leading the blind

Frano Combrinck explains the design of tactiles to stakeholders and visually challenged people
Frano Combrinck explains the design of tactiles to stakeholders and visually challenged people.jpg

The City of Tshwane has partnered with GIBBS to assist with the implementation of TGSI devices, making it easier for people with disabilities to move about in the city.

The recent profile of persons with disabilities in South Africa report based on findings from the 2011 census revealed that nationally, 7.5% of the population (approximately 2.8 million) live with some form of disability.

While crossing the street or negotiating an intersection is a simple, straightforward process for most people, others with disabilities - especially those who are visually impaired - find the task presenting some serious challenges.

Frano Combrinck, Project Technologist in the Traffic and Transportation team at GIBB, has for years stressed the importance of Tactile Ground Surface Indicators (TGSI) being developed as a universal norm in South Africa, and it appears that his efforts are finally paying off.

“Although Non-Motorised Transport (NMT) is recognised as a valuable component of transportation systems, it has historically not been included in traditional transport planning, with walkways and cycle paths generally implemented as afterthoughts, and sometimes, not at all. There was also little infrastructure to accommodate the needs of the physically challenged (the elderly, people in wheelchairs, the blind, deaf and young children) and this is now being addressed by applying the principles of universal access in all transport projects,” he said.

TGSI’s is a way-finding system included in external or internal pedestrian surfaces to help guide pedestrians and define routes. They also warn a pedestrian of imminent hazards, such as warning the pedestrian of a dropped curb at a pedestrian crossing.

Leading South African-owned engineering consulting firm, GIBB, has earned a reputation for its “out of the box” innovation and engineering excellence, and TGSI’s has been flagged for its benefits to people with disabilities.

The first of the projects has been piloted in the City of Tshwane where sidewalks were developed with the nodes required for people with disabilities and specifically the visually impaired to be able to commute with less risk.

“Universal access or design improves facilities for people of all ages, at different stages of their lives and health and there is urgency around making infrastructure accessible to all – this is the true essence of Ubuntu,” he said.

To achieve this, Combrinck said that essentially, the removal of obstacles that can hinder trying to move from Point A to Point B is crucial. Combrinck was introduced to TGSI’s while working in London twelve years ago, and concedes that while South Africa has some way to go in making our roads universally accessible, there is certainly a bigger focus on it now. In his experience, Combrinck said that South Africa is at least twenty years behind in terms of universal access to urban developments.

“With some first world countries, there are technologies built into tactiles that send out a signal to another device clipping automatically onto their cane, and that vibrate when a visually impaired person’s staff is close to the crossing, warning him or her of imminent danger. Of course, there is a long way to go for the complete roll-out of tactile crossings, but government is seeing the importance of this for social upliftment and is working toward the ultimate goal of boasting world-class urban infrastructure,” he said.

The City of Tshwane hosted an orientation for members of the SA National Council for the Blind recently, where blind and partially sighted people experienced first-hand, the convenience of TGSI.

As the South African National Council for the Blind describes it, “the TGSIs are part of a project aimed at standardising tactile surfaces on pedestrian crossings which will help visually impaired persons navigate their routes and warning them of hazards such as dropped curbs before stepping onto a road. The indicators consist of embossed sections places on a tile that are then placed on the crossings. The embossed sections are either circular or elongated, depending on their specific function - to warn against hazards or to guide.”

Chris Budeli, Manager: Education, Social Inclusion and Development for the SA National Council for the Blind said, “It is our duty to ensure that the lives of the blind and partially sighted are improved and the implementation of the TGSI is a positive move that will bring positive change to them. Blind and partially sighted persons who experienced the TGSI in Tshwane found that the TGSI helped them in identifying safe areas to cross as well as direction from one side of the road to the other.”

He added that the TGSI would also contribute in allowing blind people to explore their environment, have more land marks to find shops and places that they need to visit from time to time and be able to give each other directions.

The MyCity project in the Cape as well as the A Re Yeng, Tshwane’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) will receive the biggest single tactile focus in South African history and according to GIBB’s prescribed world-class standards, endorsed by the National Department of Transport.

The City of Johannesburg have also adopted the tactile layout and design into their complete street guidelines and will incorporate it into the extensions of the Rea Vaya project.

(City of Tshwane )

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