Experience of multisensory environments in public space among people with visual impairment

Academic Article


  • This qualitative study explored the role of sensory characteristics embedded in the built environment and whether they support or hinder people with visual impairment in their use of public spaces. An online survey link was e-mailed to the presidents and committee members of each state’s chapters and associations of the National Federation of the Blind in the United States, resulting in 451 direct invitations to participate. Written responses of the survey questions from 48 respondents with visual impairment were analyzed. Three main themes: Barriers, Supporters, and Context-Dependence emerged from the respondents’ experience of multisensory characteristics within the built environment. The four subthemes subsumed in Barriers were: (1) Population specific design, (2) Extreme sensory backgrounds, (3) Uneven ground surfaces and objects, and (4) Inconsistent lighting. For Supporters, respondents provided specific examples of various sensory characteristics in built environments, including audible cues and echoes, smells, tactile quality of the ground surface, and temperature. Context-Dependence referred to the effects of sensory characteristics embedded in public spaces depending on one’s vision condition, the proximity to the sensory cues and the purpose of the activities one was performing at that moment. Findings provide occupational therapy practitioners an in-depth understanding of the transactional relationship between embedded sensory characteristics in the built environment, occupations, and people with visual impairment in order to make appropriate modifications or removal of barriers that affect occupational performance and engagement. Suggestions for occupational therapists as well as architects, designers, planners, policy makers/legislators related to functional sensory cues in the design of built environments were provided to increase accessibility in the use of public spaces by people with visual impairment.
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Jenkins GR; Yuen HK; Vogtle LK
  • Start Page

  • 8644
  • End Page

  • 8657
  • Volume

  • 12
  • Issue

  • 8