Student’s design allows blind and visually-impaired individuals to navigate space using sense of touch

Date posted

24 May 2017


Last updated

15 June 2020

An Edinburgh Napier student has designed a kitchen that allows individuals with visual impairment to navigate the space by using their sense of touch.

Ross Stewart, who is in his final year of a design and digital arts course at the University, has produced a series of different tiles that come together to help guide a user through a kitchen space.

His design – which is one of hundreds of exhibits created by students to be showcased at Edinburgh Napier’s More Than A Degree Show from 19 May – features a range of raised and embossed touch points installed across a standard worktop which represent specific parts of a fully-functioning kitchen.

A series of raised lines, grooves, angular tiles, bumps and nodes are felt by the user so that they know where certain utilities - such as the sink, cooker, and electric points – are. This will eventually allow those with a visual impairment to make their way through the space without fear or trepidation.

The 28-year-old, who lives in Rosyth, was inspired to design the kitchen by the individuals he has met through his mother-in-law who has volunteered as a trainer of guide dogs for a number of years. Ross, who also often helps out at charity Guide Dogs for Scotland, worked with a number of people affected by visual impairment throughout the project, with their feedback and recommendations helping shape his overall design.

Inspired by the work of industrial designer Karim Rashid, the aesthetic of Ross’ project was of great significance, with the brightly coloured, tactile design allowing for both fully-blind and partially-sighted individuals to potentially use the aid in the future.

He said: “Through my own experiences of meeting and working with individuals with sight loss, I really wanted to do something that could potentially make a difference to their day-to-day life. I’ve seen first-hand the impact that a guide dog can have on someone’s life and I wanted to help play my part.

“The design features a series of interlocking tiles that differ in aesthetic to represent different parts of a standard kitchen. They act as aids to encourage those affected by visual impairment to guide themselves around the space using their sense of touch.

“I’ve had some really good feedback and constructive criticism on the design from those affected by sight loss and I’m grateful for those who have taken the time to help shape my approach to this project.”
Ross and a special visitor to his kitchen...

According to the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), there were over two million people in the UK living with sight loss in 2015, with nearly two-thirds female. Age-related macular degeneration is by far the leading cause of blindness in adults, with glaucoma, cataracts and diabetic retinopathy also found to be significant causes.

Ross added: “Usually my life is full of computer games and my family – this is my chance to help someone and give something back to those who are perhaps less fortunate them myself.

“I used a total of 60kg of plaster and more than 10 cans of spray paint to produce this prototype. Ideally, the tiles would be made out of ceramic and if I’m to continue developing this idea once my time at University is complete, that’s the route I’d like to go down.

“I’ve met many blind and partially-sighted people through my mother-in-law’s work – those individuals really are the true inspiration behind the project.”