Tactile blocks invented by Seiichi Miyake hep the visually impaired to navigate public spaces.
Thanasus/Getty Images
Tactile blocks invented by Seiichi Miyake hep the visually impaired to navigate public spaces.
CNN —  

Most people probably don’t give a second thought to the yellow, bumpy tiles near the edge of subway platforms and urban crosswalks. But for the visually impaired, they can mean the difference between life and death.

The person who dreamed up those tactile squares? Seiichi Miyake, whose invention is recognized today on Google’s homepage.

Here’s what you need to know about Miyake and how his invention ended up in public spaces around the world.

What are the tactile blocks for?

Miyake's tactile blocks are often found at the edge of railway platforms.
Andrew Burton/Getty Images/File
Miyake's tactile blocks are often found at the edge of railway platforms.

The tactile blocks (originally called Tenji blocks) help visually impaired people navigate public spaces by letting them know when they are approaching danger. The blocks have bumps that can be felt with a walking cane or through shoes.

The colored tiles are often found at the edges of railway platforms or crosswalks.

The blocks have two main patterns: dots and bars. The dots signal danger, while the bars provide directional cues that indicate a pedestrian is on a safe path.

How did Miyake come up with the idea?

Miyake, a Japanese inventor, invented the system of blocks after learning a friend’s vision was becoming impaired. They were first introduced on a street near the Okayama School for the Blind in Okayama, Japan on March 18, 1967.

A decade later, the blocks spread to all Japanese railways. The rest of the planet soon followed suit.

Miyake died in 1982, but his invention lives on almost four decades later, making the world a little safer.

Want more inspiring, positive news? Sign up for The Good Stuff, a newsletter for the good in life. It will brighten your inbox every Saturday morning.