Negotiating pedestrian crossings is something many people take for granted – but crossing the road when you’re blind or visually impaired can feel daunting.

Many people will be very used to listening out for the beep at a pedestrian crossing for the indication it is safe to cross, however not all pedestrian crossings have this feature. An audio signal can also of little help to pedestrians who also have a hearing impairment.

But many pedestrian crossings actually have useful hidden features to allow people who are blind or are visually impaired to cross safely and independently.

Located on the underside of many pedestrian crossings, you’ll find a small plastic or metal cone. It has tactile ridges to allow you to easily feel the spinning motion.When the green man shows, the cone will start spinning to indicate it’s safe to cross the road.

Sight Scotland Veterans rehabilitation officer, Katrina, explains the benefits of these little rotating cones, how to use them safely and how to have confidence in negotiating pedestrian crossings.


What are tactile cones at road crossings?

In order to assist people with dual sensory loss to cross the road safely, tactile cones that can spin have been introduced to the underside of the signal box at controlled crossings. These small plastic or metal cones have ridges to allow you to easily feel the spinning motion.

The cone will rotate only when the green man is showing, indicating to pedestrians with a vision and hearing impairment that the traffic has been signalled to stop.

Since 2002, it has been a requirement for all ’new’ controlled crossings to have the tactile cone, regardless of whether or not they have an audible signal, to improve accessibility.


What should I do when approaching a pedestrian crossing?

1. Be aware that most crossing points should have dropped kerbs to assist people with mobility difficulties, those with prams etc., so take care to ensure that the dropped kerb is identified in good time.

2. The area around many crossing points now has red/beige tactile paving. Its knobbly raised surface can generally be felt underfoot, designed to help those with vision loss find the crossing point and kerb.

3. Position yourself half a step back from the kerb and within easy reach of the signal box.

4. Once positioned, press the button on the signal box and feel for the tactile cone underneath (if it is available).

5. Once the audible sound commences and/or the tactile cone starts spinning, that’s the signal to start to cross the road at a steady pace.


What if I’m just starting to use the tactile cone feature?

The next time you are at a controlled crossing, take the time to look or feel under the signal box to see it has been updated with a tactile cone.

Activate the crossing by pressing the button in the usual way and hold onto the cone so you can experience what it feels like when it is activated and how long it stays on for.


What if the cone device is already spinning when first touched?

If the cone is already spinning when you first touch it, wait until it stops and press the push button to activate the crossing again. You may have approached it just before the lights change. It’s better to wait than risk being on the road when the traffic gets the green light again. If the cone is broken it just won’t spin.

Trust your judgement – if the tactile cone starts spinning but you can hear a car accelerating or tyres screeching nearby, wait until you feel it is safe.


What should I do if a pedestrian crossing does not have any additional aids?

Again, it is important to take your time. I you are unable to identify the green man and there is no audio signal or tactile cone then we recommend you wait until you hear no traffic sounds before attempting to cross the road.

Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance. People, in general, are keen to help. At Sight Scotland Veterans we advise the veterans we support to carry a symbol cane. It notifies others to the user’s sight loss. Held while waiting to cross the road, it means other pedestrians are more likely to offer assistance without being asked. It also makes drivers aware there is a chance the user may not see them approaching.


Top tip

Just take your time, if in any doubt wait. If you do start crossing the road and realise you have made an error of judgement, unless danger is imminent, continue on your course across the road rather than going back as drivers are less likely to anticipate someone retracing their steps.