girl with backpack trying to cross street

What is the Purpose of a Detectable Warning Surface?

First and foremost, detectable warning tiles and surfaces were designed to assist individuals with disabilities to safely navigate public spaces, and then, in 1991, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandated the use of detectable warning tiles in public areas throughout the United States.

Detectable warning tiles are high contrast surfaces with noticeable bumps to provide tactile feedback for individuals of all abilities. They were standardized by the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design, and they defined a detectable warning as “a standardized surface feature built in or applied to walking surfaces or other elements to warn of hazards on a circulation path.” (106.5) Simply, a detectable warning surface is meant to function similarly to caution or stop signs, alerting commuters to upcoming hazards.

Over a billion people around the world live with vision impairment, and within that number, 36 million people are blind according to the World Health Organization in October 2018. The CDC estimates that 61 million adults in the United States live with a disability. Meanwhile, the Guiding Eyes for the Blind estimates that 10,000 guide dog teams work in the USA. There’s clearly a need for accessibility in our communities.

Detectable warning surfaces have the purpose of making public spaces more accessible to all individuals. For example, these tiles denote crosswalk ramps, surface directional changes, and public transportation platform edges. While detectable warning dome tiles are specified for making the world more accessible to individuals with disabilities, the dome tiles can also promote safety for distracted pedestrians who may not be paying attention to their surrounding environment.

A big reason behind detectable warning surfaces is that they can help prevent physical harm and personal injury lawsuits. These surfaces alert pedestrians, bikers, and individuals with disabilities about changes in the environment such as crosswalks, intersections, bus stations, and train platforms.

Curb ramps, a surface that creates a smooth transition from sidewalk to road level, became much more common in response to the requirements of the Rehabilitation Act (1973), and this resulted in pedestrians with disabilities being unable to detect the boundary between street and sidewalk. The detectable warning dome tiles are consistently identifiable by individuals with low vision. Since 1991, detectable warning dome tiles have been a requirement for transit platform edges, and they became standard for curb ramps in 2001.

Creating a more accessible world requires data and research, and two research projects aimed to determine if detectable warning surfaces would help protect individuals with low vision while also not impeding the movement of individuals with mobility aids.

Skilled travelers with low vision failed to detect the street on 39% of approaches (Barlow and Bentzen, 1992, and Hauger, Safewright, Rigby & McAuley, 1994). Meanwhile, for individuals with mobility aids, most preferred the detectable warning surfaces because they felt safer, slip-resistant, stable, and easier to navigate (Hauger et al.). Most situations revealed that the detectable warning dome tiles served the majority of commuters, promoting safety.

A lot of research and data goes into creating the most effective detectable warning products, including materials that can withstand extreme temperatures and create enhanced sound attenuation for individuals who use a cane for assessing their environment. Materials need to make a resonating sound as well as a slight vibrational response to clue commuters into changes in their pathway.

The true purpose of detectable warning surfaces continues to be to create a more accessible and safe world for all commuters, specifically for those who live with disabilities but also for those who choose to walk or bike to their destinations.

At StrongGo, we believe in creating that world one detectable warning dome tile at a time, and we work with companies, local governments, and more to create accessible public spaces. Speak with an industry expert today by emailing


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