Google Doodle: what are Tenji blocks?

Search engine honours Seiichi Miyake, the inventor of tactile paving

Tenji blocks, tactile paving
(Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Today’s Google Doodle pays tribute to Seiichi Miyake, whose invention of the Tenji block transformed the way visually impaired people navigate urban spaces.

Millions of us walk over Tenji blocks every day without giving a thought to their purpose or just how much they mean to those who are unable to see their surroundings.

Miyake, a businessman and part-time inventor from Japan’s Okayama prefecture, became interested in accessibility in 1963, after witnessing a blind man with a cane struggle to cross a road, says HuffPost Japan.

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With the help of his friend Hideyuki Iwahashi, the chairman of an association for people with disabilities, Miyake developed a system of tactile paving in which raised lines and bumps would help visually impaired walkers navigate road crossings and other common urban obstacles.

He called the invention Tenji blocks, after the name for the Japanese version of Braille.

Tiles with raised lines tell the user that they can proceed forwards safely, while raised bumps signal “stop”, and are commonly used to mark a curb or platform edge. The blocks are often painted in bright colours so they can be seen by people who are partially sighted.

The first Tenji blocks were installed outside a school for the blind in Okayama in 1967, and became mandatory in all Japanese railway stations in the 1970s.

In the 21st century, Tenji blocks can be seen in towns and cities in 150 countries around the world, according to Japanese newspaper Mainichi. They are often referred to as tactile paving or truncated domes.

Over the years, Miyake’s original system has been developed and expanded to include more symbols, offering blind travellers even more information about their surroundings.

“For instance, when the raised lines are horizontal in the direction of travel, that might mean ‘look out for steps ahead’,” says CNet.

In 2017, YouTuber Tom Scott made a video in conjunction with the Royal National Institute for the Blind in which he explored how Tenji blocks are used in the UK. Watch below:

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