Seiichi Miyake

In 1965, the inventor Seiichi Miyake created something that would spread to almost every civilized country in the world. Since the creation of truncated domes, a tactile warning surface that is built into sidewalks and pedestrian thoroughfares, they have been installed throughout his native Japan, as well as Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States.

Seiichi Miyake wanted to help people with visual impairments travel safely through the streets of Tokyo. He was also worried that people who could not see well were in danger when boarding a train. In the 1970s, all Japan Railway platforms were modified to include tactile warning surfaces, which were in two distinct patterns.

The first pattern was a series of lines which indicated that the person traveling along the path should continue forward. The second pattern consisted of truncated domes, which would indicate the person should stop because of a change in direction or a transition from sidewalk to the motorway, or that they were reaching the end of the boarding platform and should wait for the train to stop before proceeding.

After the United States enacted the ADA, truncated domes have become mandatory on all sidewalks, in all train stations, and on public thoroughfares that coincide with motorized traffic areas. While they do not require the lined tiles that mean “go” in Japan, they do require the textured tiles that mean “stop.”

Today’s animated Doodle celebrates Japanese inventor Seiichi Miyake, whose desire to help a close friend turned into an innovation that drastically improved the way those who are visually impaired navigate public spaces around the globe.

In 1965, Miyake spent his own money to invent tactile blocks (or Tenji blocks as they were originally known) to help a friend whose vision was becoming impaired. The blocks come in two predominant types: one with dots, and the other with bars. The dotted blocks alert the visually impaired when they are approaching danger, and can often be found at the edges of crosswalks and railway platforms. The barred blocks provide directional cues, letting users know that they are following a safe path.

Aside from identifying tactile tiles via a support or white cane, individuals also do so with the help of guide dogs or feeling them through their shoes, as portrayed in other drafts of the Doodle below:

Miyake’s tactile blocks were first introduced on a street near the Okayama School for the Blind in Okayama City, Japan on this day in 1967. Their use gradually spread before they and sound guides were made mandatory in the Japanese National Railways a decade later. Since then, tactile paving is now used around the world.

Today’s Doodle depicts the Google logo rendered in the style of Miyake’s tactile blocks, embossed against the familiar yellow background.