Blind World Magazine

Braille for the feet.

Scottsdale Republic, Arizona USA.
Thursday, May 04, 2006.

SCOTTSDALE - Shawn Shelton calls them "Braille for the feet."

You may have noticed the strips of evenly spaced, 0.2-inch-high bumps at intersections in newer parts of the Valley.

Called "truncated domes," they are required by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act so blind and visually impaired people have a tactile way to detect curb ramps, streets and transit platforms.

Shelton's Scottsdale company, Rampdome Systems LLC, says it has come up with a better way to make and install the domed pavement.

Shelton and three other veterans of the construction industry invented and patented a precast concrete slab and frame that can be easily installed at intersections.

Rampdome has installed 400 of its products around the Valley so far, including in Scottsdale, Gilbert, Tempe and Surprise.

Inquiries have come in from as far away as North Dakota and Alabama, and Rampdome plans to sell nationally within the year.

Shelton, an estimator; Jeffrey Anderson and Ricky Eischen, project managers; and Shelton's father, Delbert, a retired concrete worker; started to notice the new requirements in 2001.

"The first time we saw them in plans, we said, 'What are these things?' " Shelton recalled.

Since construction bids required them, Shelton started researching on the Internet.

Special requirements

The domed pavement is intended to signal to blind people, through their feet or canes, that they are at an intersection.

The domed section also must be a contrasting color from the rest of the pavement so visually impaired people can detect the change.

Shelton and his colleagues thought the rubber mats and metal plates that contractors used at the time weren't the best choice in Arizona's heat. And they thought stamping or adding concrete bumps to a surface produced inferior results. Replacing broken sections also took time and effort to jackhammer them out and repour them.

It took about six months to come up with a concrete surface that would be easy to install in the field.

Rampdome's product starts with precast concrete squares made with specially designed molds, and steel frames that are set into the concrete when a new sidewalk ramp is being poured. The squares slip into the frame atop a bed of sand, and the edges are filled with more sand.

The four started Rampdome in 2004 and received their patent in September 2005. They sell to general contractors and concrete contractors.

Scottsdale and at least six other Valley cities have approved Rampdome's product as one of the choices contractors can use when installing new sidewalks or replacing existing ones.

Rampdome's product is popular with high-end developers because it can be made in a variety of colors, as long as they contrast with the pavement's color, Shelton said.

Not everyone's a fan

Advocates for the disabled, though, say not everyone is a fan of the domed pavement. Wheelchair users must steer their wheels through the 0.65-inch spaces between domes.

"People with visual impairments are fine with it, but wheelchair users are having a little problem," said Denise Labrecque, ADA coordinator for Scottsdale. The issue shows the challenges of finding a balance between the needs of people with different disabilities, she said.

Frank Vance, director of rehabilitation services for the Arizona Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired, said center's mobility trainers have found it easy to teach clients how to detect the domed pavement with their cane tips or through their shoes, Vance said.

End of article.

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