California Map Lesson 1

How to quickly create quality maps - including maps of YOUR state!

Adapting assignments is a huge piece of the TVI puzzle! Jessica, TVI extraordinaire, shares how she created a base map of her state and used this map to support multiple classroom activities. Her student’s class is using maps of California to learn multiple things about their state. As a TVI, Jessica’s job is to oversee resources for her braille student (working with the transcriber and paraprofessional); she knew that her student is successful with tactile maps and given orientation adn preview, he can successfully use tactile maps as quickly and efficiently as his peers. Having a PIAF machine (or Swell machine) on site allows for greater flexibility in creating accessible tactile graphics. Jessica, the classroom teacher and a paraprofressional work together as team – the classroom teacher provides a copy of the print map ahead of time so an accessible format can be created for her student. If needed, they discuss the goals of the map and map-related activities so that Jessica can adapt the materials to best fit the needs. The classroom teacher teaches the lesson to the entire class (including the braille student) and later provides feedback to Jessica if her student had any problems accessing the information on the tactile map.

Note: There is a paraprofessional who is skilled at supporting the student in using graphics (via consult with TVI) and who can handle assigments (especially last minute things!). She is fast with braille and nemeth and is wonderful with tactile graphics.

Original Print Map

Below is a photo of the original print map from the classroom teacher. (PDF version is available below the image.) The map includes the outline of California with the neighboring states and Pacific Ocean labeled. The main rivers, cities, state capital, state’s highest point and volcanic peaks. The map includes a compass rose and legend.

California Map Geology Print (PDF)

Jessica uses the GoodNotes app on her iPad to trace the original map. She used ledger size capsule paper to accommodate the long shape of California; the longer paper provided extra space, making it easier to add labels. 

Note: Make a base map of California (or your desired state). Duplicate and save that base map. A base map is the outline of the state and the features that will appear on all the maps. This saves a ton of time when creating additional California maps; the base map can be used again for future projects. Duplicate the base map before creating a specific map, such as the  Geology Map of California. Systematically name each map! Jessica’s base map included the rivers – she chose to make the rivers “more wavy” to help differentiate the rivers from the state boundary lines. The base map can include small circles for major cities – if ALL of your maps will include these cities. 

Image: Photo of PIAF-printed tactile map of California with rivers, dots for major cities, caret symbols for mountain ranges and compass. Note: Jessica’s base map did not include the caret symbols (for the mountain range) that is shown in the map image below.

Photo of California Geology Map version 1 with state boundary line, rivers, dots for major cities, caret symbols for mountain range, and compass. No braille labels.

After duplicating the base map again, Jessica add the same/similar symbols and a legend for the symbols which included: Capital (star), City (tiny circle), River (wavy lines), State Border (solid line), State’s Higest Point (underlined triangle) and Volcanic Peak (triangle). The map also has a few open circular areas marked on the map indicating large lakes. There is a compass rose.

Image of the California Geology Map with symbols for the tactile graphics machine.

California Map Geology PIAF pdf (This map is ready to be printed on capsule paper and run through a tactile graphics machine.)

Jessica printed this map on capsule paper and ran the map (without braille labels, just the tactile symbols) through the PIAF machine.

The video below shows the raised line California map coming out of the PIAF machine. The map is printed on ledger-size capsule paper.

Then, Jessica put the tactile map in a Perkins brailler and hand brailled the labels on the map and on the legend. The end of the rivers were marked with R and a number (R1, R2, etc.), the volcanic peaks with the triangle symbol were marked with V and a number, and the cities were marked with letter abbreviations. (Example: LA for Los Angeles and LB for Long Beach.) There was not enough room on the map to braille the full river names; a separate key was needed to provide this information.

Note: Hand-brailling is quick and easy; it is easy for the student to distinguish the hand-brailled labels from the raised lines. Braille font can be added to the digital version of the map and is good if multiple copies of the map are needed.

Image of PIAF-printed tactile map of California with symbols and legend and hand-brailled labels.

Photo of the tactile California Geo map with symbols and hand braille labels.

Your student should have strong tactile skills through previous exposure to tactile graphics with legends; if he/she is independent and efficient with tactile graphics, the student can be given the tactile map in class and can complete the map-related assignments with his peers. If your student is not yet independent with tactile graphics and/or using a map legend, then it is critical to pre-teach the map prior to the student using the map in the gen ed classroom. It may be hard to find the time to preview a map, but it is an important accommodation that helps the student to participate during class instruction. Jessica shared that using materials created with the PIAF machine makes it easy for other student to see what her blind student is looking at so teaming up with peers is also possible. her student and his peers can often work together without the need for adultl support (so many activities involve students working in teams, so this method flows well!)

The long term goal is to simply provide the tactile resources for activities like this – which means introducing tactile graphics skills to students early! In her post, Creating PIAF Images: Graphic Book Covers, Jessica explains how these tactile graphic book covers “prime the pump” and lead to discussions and foundational concepts through incidental learning for students who are blind or low vision. Exposure to tactile graphics at early ages will provide foundational tactile graphic skills which will help the student to be independent with tactile graphic maps – and as efficient with maps as his/her sighted peers – for gen ed activities like the California maps.  

See California Map Lesson 2: Cartographic Activity to learn how Logan used these tactile maps to complete the worksheet by labeling features of the map!


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By Diane Brauner