Tactile Maps

For Students who are Blind or Visually Impaired

This section addresses the creation of tactile maps, including their design and method of production. Starting with a brief look at the history of tactile maps, it explores the advantages of various styles, materials, and techniques, from simple relief maps through online mapping and high-tech developments.

Below is a list of topics you'll find in this section. Click on a title to jump to a specific topic.

The History of Teaching Geography to the Blind

Best Practice Guidelines for the Design, Production and Presentation of Vacuum Formed Tactile Maps
Ann Gardiner and Chris Perkins explain each step in designing and creating vacuum formed tactile maps. Their approach enables anyone to prepare useful raised graphics.

Perkins History Museum—Perkins School for the Blind
This article describes the history of teaching geography and the use of tactile maps and globes in the education of students who are blind or visually impaired.

Geography: Globe
Perkins History Museum—Perkins School for the Blind
The 6-foot relief globe in the Perkins History Museum was made for the school's students in 1837, and may be the oldest such globe in the United States.

Computer-Generated Tactile Maps

Emerging GIS Technology and Accessibility: Online Mapping for Everyone
Directions Magazine
Christopher J. Andrews discusses the role of GIS (Geographic Information Systems) technology in creating accessible web-based mapping applications.

A More Accessible Map
A List Apart
Seth Duffey presents a way to convert text-based map data into an accessible display.

Tactile Map Automated Production (TMAP):  Using GIS Data to Generate Raised-Line Street Maps
Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute
TMAP allows visitors to this site to download and emboss customized tactile street maps of any location in the United States.

Tactile Maps
KQED Quest Radio
This podcast describes the tactile maps designed by Josh Miele of Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute. (They can be downloaded at http://www.ski.org/Rehab/TMAP/ and embossed by the user.)

Organizations and Resources to Explore: Tactile Maps

Blind Audio Tactile Mapping System (BATS)
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
The Blind Audio Tactile Mapping System (BATS) project focuses on making spatial information accessible to people without vision.

Commission on Maps and Graphics for Blind and Visually Impaired People
International Cartographic Association
This group disseminates information on maps and graphics for people who are blind and visually impaired, including design, research, and production technologies. They provide experts for workshops throughout the world.

Investigating Multi-Modal Representations of Spatial Environments
Immerse Research Group—University of Calgary
This research team focuses on the understanding and representation of spatial and geographic information. Included are studies with users who are blind or visually impaired, and links to numerous publications on the subject.

Spatial and Map Cognition Research Lab
University of Oregon
This site has links to research on tactile mapping and visual variables in spatial and map cognition.

Research: Tactile Maps

Accessible GPS for the Blind:  What are the Current and Future Frontiers?
California State University—Northridge
Michael May explores the barriers, benefits, and future promise of GPS (Global Positioning Systems) technology for users who are blind or visually impaired.

A Commentary on the Use of Touch for Accessing On-Screen Spatial Representations: The Process of Experiencing Haptic Maps and Graphics (requires Adobe Acrobat Reader)
Immerse Research Group—University of Calgary
The authors discuss the possibilities of electronic haptic maps, using "new and off-the-shelf hardware—force feedback and vibrotactile mice" to "enable nonvisual access to onscreen map or graphic material."

Comparing Methods for Introducing Blind and Visually Impaired People to Unfamiliar Urban Environments
This paper examines the effectiveness of several methods for familiarizing people who are blind and visually impaired with the spatial layout of urban environments.

Creating Tactile Maps for the Blind Using a GIS
American Congress on Surveying and Mapping
Jerry Clark and Deanna Durr Clark describe the use of a GIS (Geographic Information System) and coordinate digitizer to create customized tactile maps on micro-encapsulated paper.

Mapping for Change: Tactile Map of UBC (requires Adobe Acrobat Reader)
University of British Columbia
Brenda Madrazo and Juan Gabriel Solorzano describe the challenges of tactile map design, share design guidelines, discuss the braille system, and offer a literature review on the field.

Navigation for the Visually Handicapped: Going Beyond Tactile Cartography (requires Adobe Acrobat Reader)
Immerse Research Group—University of Calgary
R. Dan Jacobson discusses the development of a personal guidance system which would "provide on-line interactions … in audio or tactile form, providing orientation, location and guidance information...."

A New Approach to Interactive Audio/Tactile Computing:  The Talking Tactile Tablet
California State University, Northridge
Steven Landau and Karen Gourgey describe their research on audio-tactile computing, and  discuss development of the Talking Tactile Atlas of the World.

On the Theoretical Basis of Tactile Cartography for the Haptic Transformation of Historic Maps
Konstantinos S. Papadopoulos describes the production and testing of some experimental tactile maps.

Representing Spatial Information through Multimodal Interfaces: Overview and Preliminary Results in Non-Visual Interfaces (requires Adobe Acrobat Reader)
Immerse Research Group—University of Calgary
R. Dan Jacobson discusses research on "the accessibility and usability of spatial data presented through multiple sensory modalities including haptic, auditory, and visual interfaces."

SVG Maps for People with Visual Impairment
SVG Open
This paper presents the use of Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) to help people with visual impairment read audio-tactile maps.

Tactile Cartography of Latin America:  Evaluation and Perspectives (requires Adobe Acrobat Reader)
This Chilean map project examines cartographic models and evaluates their use by students who are blind.

Tactile Graphics and Strategies for Non-Visual Seeing (requires Adobe Acrobat Reader)
Steve Landau discusses tactile maps, talking kiosks, the Talking Tactile Tablet and the Tactile Graphical User Interface.

Touch, Hear and Sea: A Simulator for the Blind Sailor's Geographical Representation
The authors describe Seatouch software and hardware, used by sailors who are blind to prepare their maritime itineraries with haptic sensations, vocal announcements and realistic sounds.

Happy Tourist: Tactile Maps, Tiresias

As of August 2013, Tiresias was relocating its content onto the RNIB website. While this takes place, the Tiresias site will operate in maintenance mode and will not be updated.