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Activities that Build Digital Map Skills

Try these physical activities before introducing SAS Graphics Accelerator Maps to students with visual impairments!

Are SAS Graphics Accelerator Maps the same as visual maps?

Yes and no. The SAS Graphics Accelerator Maps are accessible digital maps which do contain the same content; but they do not look the same as the original visual map.

Online visual maps, such as Google Maps and Apple Maps, are visual maps created for for users with vision. While these online maps can be zoomed in and out, making them accessible for many users with low vision, these maps are not fully accessible for users who rely on a screen reader. Classic printed maps require magnification tools for users with low vision who need the maps to be enlarged. Tactile maps often mirror the visual maps; these maps may be modified as needed due to limited available space or clutter. The SAS Graphics Accelerator Maps are digital, interactive maps created specifically for users who are visually impaired. These maps are not designed to mirror traditional visual maps; instead, these maps take the data and present it in a way that provides the map information and that enables the visually impaired user to easily navigate and interact with the data using a screen reader. During field testing and the public release of the SAS Graphics Accelerator Maps, professionals who are visually impaired are off and running with these digital maps. As with other cutting-edge AT applications, it can be challenging for educators with vision to initially view the software from a visually impaired person’s perspective. In this case, COMS and TVIs often anticipate that the accessible digital map will look like a traditional visual map. Think of it this way. There are three different formats for reading words: print words, braille words and auditory words. Print is designed for readers with vision, braille is for readers with limited or no vision, and auditory is for all readers. All three ways enable people to read the same content. There are three formats for maps: visual maps, tactile maps and auditory maps. The SAS Graphics Accelerator Maps are designed to be accessible, interactive digital maps for users who are visually impaired; these digital maps are not intended to look like their visual counterparts.

Now that we understand that an accessible digital map will visually look different than the original visual map, how do we introduce foundational concepts that SAS Graphics Accelerator uses to young students with beginning map skills? 

Note: Best practice indicates that students should first be exposed to basic tactile maps before being introduced to accessible digital maps.

Introducing Your Student to SAS Graphics Accelerator Maps

The following activities are concrete activities that will help young students understand foundational digital map concepts.

Have your student stand in an open area with his cane facing a known landmark. If in school, have him stand in a deserted intersection, facing an obvious landmark, such as the hall leading to the noisy cafeteria. Place several obstacles around him that he can find and easily identify using his cane, such as a metal trash can, a cardboard box, a chair, etc. Items should be placed randomly – some close and some far enough away that he has to stretch to reach. Ask him to stretch his cane out as far in front of him as possible and slowly turn in a full circle, stopping to identify each obstacle. The SAS Graphics Accelerator maps are also in the shape of a big circle. In the center of the circle is a virtual cane that reaches out to the edge of the circle. There are numerous items, called Points of Interest (POIs) located within the circle. Some POIs will be very close, while other POIs will farther away.

Now, face the noisy cafeteria. The cafeteria hall is at 12:00. For the purposes of this demonstration, we will consider 12:00 to be due North (even if the cafeteria is not physically North). Tell the student to “grow roots like a tree” and plant his feet; he can no longer turn his feet in a different direction. Place an obstacle at various locations around his circle; be sure the obstacle stays in reach of his cane. When he finds the obstacle, ask him to identify the obstacle, name where the obstacle is in relationship to him in the center of the circle (clock-face terms, such as 2:00) and finally ask the student if the obstacle is near him, halfway, or far away. (Far away is currently the distance he can stretch and reach with his cane.) When your student locates an obstacle, encourage him to make a beep sound using a higher pitch for closer items and progressively lowering the pitch for POIs which are farther away.

Have the student “jump” to a POI, such as the metal trashcan. From this location, where are the other items located? Remember, 12 o’clock/north is always the noisy cafeteria!

To help your student to build a mental map, place the same obstacle in the same location. Without reaching for the POI, ask the student to point directly to a specific POI. 

Relate these activities to SAS Graphics Accelerator maps:

  1. You are always located in the center of the circle.
  2. You always face 12:00, which is North.
  3. You always determine the spatial relationship of your POIs from your location.
  4. You always relate the distance of each POI from your location – near, halfway, far away (For advanced students you can use fractions!)
  5. The closer the POI, the higher the tone; the farther the POI, the lower the tone.

Next, gather a variety of items that make noise. (Examples: a bell, clicker, whistle, a triangle, etc. or simply clap your hands!) Stand farther away from the student (outside of his cane reach) and make a noise. Ask the student to identify the POI (if applicable) and name the spatial relationship using clock-face terms. Establish new distances for near, halfway and far, then ask the student to identify the distance of each POI by the pitch of his beep. Be sure to encourage mental mapping skills! If using different noise makers in specific places, name a noise maker and then ask the student to point to where that noise maker was located, then state the clock-face location and if it is near, halfway or far. 

COMS’ Perspective

Keep in mind, a student who relies on a screen reader, does not need the traditional visual map! Sighted O&Ms tend to rely on their eyes when looking at digital maps; our students will rely on their ears. Be prepared “sightlings” – when you see the interactive digital map, it will NOT look anything like you expect! But, the information is all there!

SAS Graphics Accelerator Resources

By Diane Brauner

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