An Evaluation of Detectable Warning Surfaces for Sidewalk Curb Ramps

Report No: 95-R31

Published in 1995

About the report:

The 1991 Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines required the installation of a detectable warning surface (raised truncated domes) on sidewalk curb ramps to alert visually impaired people to potential hazards. Although this requirement was later suspended until 1996, there has been much debate about whether visually impaired people need detectable warnings on ramps and, if so, whether domes are the best option. The Virginia Department of Transportation's (VDOT's) current standard requires an exposed aggregate (gravel mixed into concrete) surface on curb ramps. This study evaluated seven warning surfaces for their detectability by the visually impaired and their ease of maneuverability for the mobility impaired. Information about the performance characteristics of different ramp surfaces was also obtained by telephone survey of transportation officials in Virginia and 21 other states. Test results for 52 visually impaired subjects indicated that the five domed surfaces were far more detectable than the aggregate surfaces; a majority of the totally blind subjects failed to detect the aggregates. Aggregate surfaces were clearly preferred by the six mobility impaired subjects, some of whom had notable difficulty maneuvering on the domed surfaces. Some visually impaired subjects made negative comments about the feel of the domed surfaces underfoot. Survey results indicated that other states are requiring a variety of ramp surfaces, not all of which are detectable warnings. Some areas using domes reported considerable winter maintenance damage. No maintenance damage to aggregate was reported, but Virginia respondents reported other kinds of problems with its installation and use. Selection of a curb ramp surface involves numerous tradeoffs, most notably the tradeoff between high detectability for the visually impaired and maneuverability for the mobility impaired.

Disclaimer Statement:The contents of this report reflect the views of the author(s), who is responsible for the facts and the accuracy of the data presented herein. The contents do not necessarily reflect the official views or policies of the Virginia Department of Transportation, the Commonwealth Transportation Board, or the Federal Highway Administration. This report does not constitute a standard, specification, or regulation. Any inclusion of manufacturer names, trade names, or trademarks is for identification purposes only and is not to be considered an endorsement.


Other Authors

Philomena B. Lockwood, Richard V. Taylor, JoAnna L. Lavely, Amy A. O'Leary, Ph.D.

Last updated: December 18, 2023

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