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Shared Surfaces

Engineers Ireland recently held a seminar entitled “Roads and Transportation Seminar Urban Design – Shared Spaces”. Both the Centre for Excellence in Universal Design (CEUD) and Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind contributed to this session highlighting the role of Universal Design and the importance of making sense of shared spaces.

One of the main concerns of shared spaces highlighted is the removal of the kerb. Blind and partially sighted people, particularly guide dog owners and long cane users are trained to use the kerb as a key navigation cue in the street environment. Its removal, without a proven effective, alternative feature, exposes blind and partially sighted people to greater risk, undermines their confidence, and so creates a barrier to their independent mobility. Another concern is that the concept of shared spaces requires changes in the behaviour of drivers, encouraging them to be extra cautious as they negotiate the new road layout. Pedestrians, motorists and cyclists need to make eye contact to establish who has priority. However this puts blind and partially sighted people at a serious disadvantage.

Following on from the session in Engineers Ireland, the CEUD held an interactive workshop on this topic. The workshop highlighted the importance of continued research relating to people with mobility and visual impairments and the lack of guidance in this area. To address the above concerns the CEUD and Engineers Ireland are establishing a working group on this topic in September 2009.